General election 2024: Which party will do most for British farming?

Following the prime minister’s announcement that the general election will be held on 4th July, the big question arises: which party will do most for British farming? 

As PM's announced that general elections will be hosted on 4th July, the big question arises: which party will do most for British farming? 

In a speech outside 10 Downing Street on 22nd May, Rishi Sunak announced that the next general election will be held on 4th July. The move came as a surprise to many, as the election had been predicted to fall later in autumn.  

Parliament was suspended on Friday 24th May, and an official five-week election campaign started on Thursday 30th May.  

Labour holds a 20 point lead over the Conservatives according to the first Ipsos voting intentional poll.

Pressing need for clarity and support 

Mark Russell, head of the Cambridge rural department at Carter Jonas, said that the UK farming industry is “in the midst of significant economic challenges” while also grappling with challenging crop conditions due to wet weather conditions.  

“This sustained period of uncertainty is further compounded by the upcoming general election. Long-term planning is absolutely critical for farm and estate management.  

“There is a pressing need for clarity on tax changes, support for the environment and food, planning regulations, laws related to land and property, and development land tax, as these issues directly impact farmers’ ability to plan effectively,” he concluded. 

Labour Party 

Sir Keir Starmer of the Labour Party said that the general elections in July are an opportunity for the “change the country needs and has been waiting for”. 

He added: “A vote for Labour is a vote for stability – economic and political. A politics that treads more lightly on all our lives. A vote to stop the chaos.  

“Our offer is to reset both our economy and our politics. So that they once again serve the interests of working people.  

“We totally reject the Tory view that economic strength is somehow gifted from those at the top.” 

The leader added that the Labour Party has a “long-term plan” to rebuild Britain. 

During the Future Countryside conference that took place earlier this month, shadow Defra secretary Steve Reed pledged that Labour would treat the countryside with respect and devolve power to its communities. 

He said that people living in the countryside would benefit from Labour policies, which include plans for a state-owned clean energy company, greater mental health support, increasing the number of teachers in schools and a focus on skills. 

Mr Reed added that Labour would increase police patrols in towns and villages. He said: “We won’t accept the levels of GPS farm equipment theft and livestock worrying. 

“We’ll force offenders who dump rubbish, fly tip or vandalise our fields to join clean-up squads.” 

He said that people need more homes, however, “they will not be built at the expense of the environment”. 

Mr Reed, who acknowledged that he is not from a countryside background, concluded: “People from urban areas – like me – will not tell people who live and work in the countryside how they should live their lives”. 

Conservative Party 

As the election campaign progresses, the Conservatives are sending a message that reads: “On Thursday 4th July, you have a choice: clear plan of bold action for a secure future with the Conservatives or Keir Starmer’s Labour: no conviction, no courage, no plan. 

“We’re making progress. Let’s not go back to square one now.” 

Rishi Sunak added that as Prime Minister, he will make the “hard but necessary long-term decisions” to get the country on the “right path for a brighter future”.  

Among the Conservative Party’s pledges are: halving inflation, growing the economy to create better-paid jobs, reducing debt to secure the future of public services as well as cutting healthcare waiting lists and “ending the unfairness of illegal migration”. 

The PM also shared plans to fine fly-tippers up to six points on their driving licences if the Conservatives were to win the election. 

He added that Tory is the only party with “a clear plan to ensure safety, security and prosperity in your local community”. 

Mr Sunak said: “Everyone has the right to feel safe in their neighbourhood and a sense of pride in the place they call home. 

“The Conservatives are the only ones with a clear plan to ensure safety, security and prosperity in your local community and your high street. 

“We will take the bold action needed to crack down on fly-tipping, evict nuisance tenants and stop anti-social behaviour in its tracks so we can build a secure future for everyone across the whole country.” 

Environment secretary Steve Barclay told delegates at the Future Countryside conference that the election is a “choice between those who care for the countryside and those not in tune with rural areas”. 

He added that where Labour was in office, such as in Wales, it was not sympathetic to the needs of the rural economy. 

Mr Barclay also pledged his focus on food production, by saying: “For me, the priority for the countryside is to ensure that food production is uppermost, as the golden thread through all our policy. 

“Without that we don’t have food security, without that, we don’t have profitable businesses to which the next generation are attracted within the sector.” 

He concluded his speech by saying: “We are committed to nature, we are committed to the environment, but we are doing so in a way that works with our farming and our food production. 

“I think SFI brings those two things together, and that is exactly where our focus has been.” 

Liberal Democrats 

The Liberal Democrats have promised a “fair deal” to voters, which includes protecting the environment and safeguarding democracy. 

The party said: “In very tough times, the British people have shown remarkable decency and strength.  

“Everywhere across our great United Kingdom, people from all backgrounds and all walks of life are working hard, raising families, helping others and playing by the rules – but finding it harder and harder to make ends meet. 

“Now more than ever, people deserve a fair deal. More and more people are turning to the Liberal Democrats to put an end to this terrible Conservative government.” 

The party added that every vote for the Liberal Democrats is a vote to elect “a strong local champion who will fight for a fair deal for you and your community”. 

Responding to the Conservative’s announcement that fly-tippers face driving licence points, a Liberal Democrat spokesperson said that the Tories have “effectively legalised littering”, pointing out that under their government, fines for littering and fly-tipping are “so low that people are being let off scot-free up and down the country”.  

Liberal Democrats have also launched the ‘Back British Farming’ campaign, which focuses on increasing the agriculture budget by £1 billion.

Plans to “save” British farming include a proposal to re-negotiate overseas trade deals and address the industry’s worker shortages. 

Sir Ed Davey

Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey said: “This Conservative government has left a legacy of failure, from the NHS to British farming. 

“British farmers are the best in the business, but Conservative neglect has left too many farmers on their knees. Rishi Sunak takes farmers for granted.” 

The party launched a dedicated campaign website, urging the public to sign its online petition. The online statement reads: “Farmers across the country are worried about their future. 

“They’re worried that the UK will be flooded with poor-quality food that undercuts the food they produce to high environmental and animal welfare standards. 

“The Conservatives have sold out our farmers. Liberal Democrats back British farmers.” 

Green Party 

Adrian Ramsay

The Green Party has been campaigning to rapidly accelerate the rollout of renewable energy, focusing on wind and solar power, as well as increasing recycling and reducing plastic waste. 

It also pledged to introduce new laws to “fight privatisation” in the NHS. 

Its co-leader Adrian Ramsay said: “We are the only party to be honest with the public that it’s going to cost money to nurse the NHS back to health.” 

The party’s other pledges include the launch of a new wealth tax, which would be charged at 1% on all assets worth more than £10m declared in a self-assessment tax return, increasing to 2% on all assets above £1bn. 

Greens have set out plans to bring Capital Gains Tax (CGT) in line with income tax bands, and reform National Insurance contributions. 

Planning reform needed 

According to a new survey by the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), Britain’s planning system is squandering thousands of pounds for rural businesses and will sway how the countryside votes in this general election. 

The poll of 350 rural business owners revealed that 70% of respondents either agree or strongly agree that each party’s policy on planning reform will influence the way they vote, with only 8% disagreeing or strongly disagreeing.  

Nearly three-quarters (73%) of people said they had been forced to abandon plans to invest because of planning problems. Of those, nearly half had wasted at least £10,000 on projects before giving up, with many (19%) reporting losses of more than £50,000.  

The survey also showed that 85% of respondents strongly agree or strongly agree that the system has hampered the growth of their own businesses, with just 4% strongly disagreeing or disagreeing.  

94% said there was a lack of knowledge on rural issues and agricultural matters within the system, and 92% feel that improved knowledge would be beneficial to projects.  

Two-thirds also believe the Green Belt restricts farm diversification projects, with 13% saying it does not. 

The results follow the previous CLA poll, which revealed that Conservatives are struggling to keep hold of their rural heartlands, suffering a 25-point collapse in support.

Government must cut the red tape 

Peter Hogg, farmer and rural business owner in Morpeth, said: “The planning system is crippling businesses like mine. We had a farmhouse I wanted to convert into a B&B to help diversify our income.  

“But the application dragged on for over a year due to a dispute over adding a small sunroom, which should have been straightforward given it was replacing a previous extension we’d demolished.  

“The delay meant we lost a full season and over £30,000 in revenue. And when permission was finally granted, it took just two weeks and £800 to build the sunroom – four times less than what we paid in planning costs.  

“If businesses like mine are to succeed, the government must cut the red tape that’s stunting our growth and livelihoods. Beyond the financial impact, the mental toll is profound. Many perceived problems could be sorted in 20 minutes over a cup of tea.”  

READ MORE: New planning rules come into force

READ MORE: Council responds to backlash over ‘unfair’ decision on Jeremy Clarkson’s restaurant

READ MORE: What does the ‘Clarkson clause’ mean for farmers? 

Politically homeless 

CLA president Victoria Vyvyan

CLA president Victoria Vyvyan added that, with the countryside’s vote on a knife edge, planning reform is key to winning rural seats.  

“So many enterprises in rural areas could grow, create jobs, help provide housing, but are being stifled by an archaic planning regime that seems almost designed to restrict our ambition. This can’t afford to slip from party manifestos.” 

Ms Vyvyan pointed out that farmers and landowners are “dynamic and innovative” and want to help grow the rural economy, but time and again their efforts have been “hampered and frustrated”. 

She added: “Nobody wants to concrete over the countryside, least of all us, but instead of treating rural communities as museums, political parties need to support small-scale developments – adding small numbers of homes to a large number of villages, helping to provide lifelong housing for local people while also boosting the economy.  

“For the first time in a decade, rural communities feel politically homeless. The first party who can match our aspirations for a dynamic rural economy won’t just secure significant support; they may just win the election.” 

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