Head of Campaigns, Liam Stokes, told delegates at the Labour conference on 24 September that the party does not speak for rural Britain and warned them not to conflate animal rights with rural issues if they want to win in rural areas.
Speaking at the Countryside Alliance fringe event at the annual Labour conference, Liam confronted party members, candidates and MPs with the real impact of Welsh Labour ordering Natural Resource Wales (NRW) to ban pheasant shooting on the Welsh Government Estate. Pointing to the jobs and investment caused by the Labour Environment Ministers’ order, which NRW have characterised as “not evidence based”, Liam said the party’s conflation of animal rights and rural issues appeared to continue.
Liam urged the party to tackle their “cultural disconnect” with rural communities and said it was in everyone’s interests to see Labour take rural issues seriously. “If votes are not being contested in the countryside then rural issues go to the back of the que”, he said.
Shadow Environment Minister, Luke Pollard MP, also addressed the meeting and stated, “nearly all of our (Labour’s) target seats have rural component” and said that Labour needed to focus on the issues that mattered to people in those areas. He acknowledged, “there is an awful lot of focus on grouse shooting and fox hunting” but he urged his party to talk about “real issues” such as low wages, lack of broadband coverage, and a shortage of affordable homes. “Rural communities are being poorly served by those voices that just want to talk about grouse shooting”, he said.
Luke’s comments were echoed by Angela Smith MP who said that rural areas are “seen as some form of ‘other’ in the Labour party” and urged the party to change its language and narrative in rural areas.
Countryside Alliance Political Relations Manager, James Somerville-Meikle, commented: “It was excellent to see so many people wanting to debate rural issues at Labour conference this year. We had a room full of rural delegates from across the country asking what their party was doing to address a broad range of rural issues from housing and broadband, to farm support payments.
“The question of who represents and speaks for rural communities is more important than it has been for a long time with farming and rural areas at the heart of many debates about our new relationship with Europe and new policies in agriculture, fisheries, and the environment.”
Speaking after the event, Liam Stokes said: “It was good to challenge Labour Party members and elected representatives on the NRW debacle. The Countryside Alliance will always tackle these issues head on. It was interesting to hear so many of the party’s candidates and elected representatives telling us that hunting and shooting issues do not come up on the doorstep. This has always been the Alliance’s position; the wider public are not interested in an animal rights agenda, and we urge the Labour Party to remember that in future policy-making.”