Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Tim Bonner writes:
This week the Countryside Alliance launched Labour Country, a joint report with the Fabian Society seeking to reconnect the Labour Party with the countryside.
The report delivers some hard truths to the Labour Party, as well as furnishing the party with policy ideas that would genuinely help rural communities. It advises the Labour Party to stop fixating on animal rights issues, and start talking about those that actually matter to people in the countryside.
The launch of the report generated a lot of interest from the press, Alliance members and Labour supporters, and it is fair to say that some were interested to find the Countryside Alliance collaborating on a project with a socialist society affiliated with the Labour Party. For those who know us, however, there should not really be any surprise. The Alliance has always been apolitical, but that does not mean that we do not seek to influence political parties. It means we seek to influence them all.
Our Chairman is a Conservative MP, but our President is a Labour Peer. Our previous Chairman was a Labour MP and her predecessor was a proud Fabian.
It is not the Alliance’s job to tell anyone who to vote for, or to advance the interests of any particular party. It is, however, our job to work with every political party to develop policies that serve rural communities, so no matter who governs us they have the best interests of the countryside at heart.
The work we have done with the Fabians is particularly timely given the recently published Labour Animal Welfare consultation. This lays out an overt animal rights agenda including pledges to restrict game farming and tinker with the Hunting Act, whilst leaving rural concerns like hare poaching, sky lanterns and sheep worrying unaddressed.
The report notes that the aftershocks of the Hunting Act are still felt in rural areas over a decade late. How much worse will they be if Labour turns on game shooting, an activity undertaken by at least ten times as many people?
And whilst the focus of this report is Labour’s ‘rural problem’, as a senior Labour figure describes it, it is not healthy for one party to think they have the countryside vote sown up. The electoral map of rural England (in particular) is almost entirely blue and the focus groups that were undertaken as part of this report show that many rural people feel like every party has forgotten them, because everyone assumes they will vote Conservative regardless of how they are treated.
The report contains a clear message to the Labour party that it needs to reach out to rural voters if it has any chance of securing their votes, but it should also remind the Conservative party that the countryside cannot be taken for granted
Follow me at @CA_TimB