Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, the two candidates battling it out to become the next Conservative Party leader, have both pledged to ‘champion the rural way of life’ in a written plea to Countryside Alliance members and supporters.
Writing in the Alliance membership magazine, My Countryside, both have set out their vision for rural Britain.
The magazine is set to land on tens of thousands of doormats over the coming days, at the same time leadership ballot papers arrive separately from Tory HQ.
Tim Bonner, the Alliance’s Chief Executive said: “The cost-of-living crisis is affecting rural communities as deeply as any part of the country and that is clearly a hot button issue for many of our members.”
“Rural people hold the keys to Number 10 and it is essential that both candidates are seen to actively engage with voters in the countryside. Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss both represent rural constituencies, so we are hopeful that the interests of the countryside will not be seen as secondary to ‘eye catching’ environmental and animal welfare policies. We need to know that either potential future Prime Minister will protect the rural way of life".
A snap survey of Countryside Alliance supporters found that sleeplessness and anxiety as a result of rising costs are now common. There is overwhelming support for a VAT cut on fuel, with nine out of 10 respondents backing the move. And six out of 10 want an end to green levies on energy bills.
Just over half thought the cost of filling their oil tank had gone up at least 50 percent, while more than three quarters said their disposable income had decreased by at least 10 percent.
Writing that she wanted to “unleash the potential of our rural communities”, the current Foreign Secretary and Member of Parliament for Southwest Norfolk, Liz Truss, said: “I want people to fulfil their dreams no matter where they are from. This includes our most rural and isolated communities, which despite the splendour of their settings often face the very specific challenges of poor connectivity, remote public services, higher transport costs and a greater reliance on oil and LPG for heating.”
“My defining mission would be to get economic growth back on track by cutting corporation tax, reversing the National Insurance rate rise, simplifying taxes and reliefs, reforming business rates and introducing a moratorium on energy levies. I know that people across the whole of Britain are struggling with rising prices and I am absolutely determined to help them from day one.”
The Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak and Member of Parliament for Richmond (Yorks) said that his “mission has always been to do things ‘for’ rural communities, not ‘to’ them.”
“I know the cost of living is the number one priority for people at the moment,” told Alliance members. “As Chancellor, I announced £37 billion to help families with their bills – including cutting fuel duty. I also took the decision to allow farmers to continue using red diesel as part of our reforms to rebated fuels.
On farming, Mr. Sunak, who previously served as President of one of Britain’s oldest sheep shows the Moorcock Show, said: “Farming is part of the DNA of my constituency - from the Upper Dales to Great Ayton, from sheep to dairy to arable, through Auction Marts at Hawes, Leyburn and Northallerton. Food production and food security have never been so important and I will always back our farmers, to whom we owe so much. They - and our wider rural communities - are part of the solution to the environmental challenges we face, not the problem”.
Mrs Truss said: “I also want to boost our domestic food production, particularly in growth areas like horticulture and seafood - increasing UK food security and enabling us to buy, grow and sell more British food. To do this, I will streamline the inspection regime for UK food producers by removing red tape, reducing costs and having a greater role for earned recognition.”
She added: “Whether it’s the Lakeland Fells or the Norfolk Brecks, our world-famous countryside wouldn’t look the way it does, or support the precious plants, habitats and wildlife, without the efforts of our farmers and land managers. That’s why it’s vital that alongside boosting food production, we harness their skills for landscape-scale conservation - using their expertise and common sense. As the Environmental Land Management schemes are rolled out, we must work closely with industry to ensure that farmers are able to access these schemes, and be rewarded for their efforts, while delivering robust environmental outcomes.”
Vowing to “scrap Whitehall-imposed top-down housing targets”, Mrs. Truss said she would “place planning powers in the hands of local people who know their communities best”, arguing that it will allow them “to grow organically and meet local needs”.
Both candidates focused on the importance of supporting rural businesses, while referencing Countryside Alliance Rural Award winners in their respective constituencies.
Mr. Sunak said: “I know the importance of a thriving rural economy. Butchers, farm shops, pubs, hotels, and post offices are the lifeblood of North Yorkshire’s economy – as they are for rural communities across the country. I am a supporter of the Countryside Alliance Awards and was incredibly proud last year when my local, the Exelby Green Dragon Community pub, won the ‘highly commended pub’ title.
He added: “I was the first person to buy a share in the pub when it was set up as a not-for-profit company in 2018 and was delighted to see it recognised for its achievements. As Chancellor, I made sure our pubs were protected during the pandemic and helped get them back on their feet with a cut to beer duty and a reduction in VAT and business rates”.
Mrs. Truss said: “Unleashing the potential of our rural communities will be at the heart of this mission. I know only too well from the Countryside Alliance Awards the strength, breadth and dynamism of rural businesses, including regional winners like the Fox Inn in Garboldisham in my constituency. I want more of our businesses to be Rural Oscar winners as it’s these types of businesses - the village shop that keeps its local Post Office services going or the pub that promotes local produce and puts on events for elderly residents - that underpin the rural economy and way of life”.
Click here to read Liz Truss's article in full
Click here to read Rishi Sunak's article in full