Skip to content

Conservatives and Labour set out rural pitch

Leading political figures from Labour and the Conservatives pitched to rural voters in speeches at the Future Countryside conference this week. Powered by The Countryside Alliance Foundation, the event in Syon Park, west London, attracted delegates from farming, conservation and rural organisations.

Environment Secretary Stephen Barclay told the delegates that the election is a choice between those who care for the countryside and those not in tune with rural areas.

Mr Barclay said where Labour was in office – such as in Wales – policies were not sympathetic to the needs of the rural economy. He also criticised Labour councils, including Oxford City and Enfield, which had voted to ban meat and dairy.

He said his focus was on food production.

“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.”

Mr Barclay pointed to the new “sustainable farming initiative” (SFI) to pay for nature-friendly farming such as clean water, habitats and healthy soils, equipment grants to boost productivity, labelling to better highlight British produce and extending the badger cull as policies supporting the sector.

And he said: “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.”


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

And he said: “This election is a choice between people who live and represent and care about the countryside and those whose whole careers have been in inner cities, who perhaps visit, and if you look at what’s happening in Wales, what’s happening in their councils, are not in tune with rural communities”.

Shadow Environment Secretary Steve Reed said Labour would devolve power to rural communities and had a plan to give them their “future back”.

He reiterated Labour’s pledge to treat rural communities with “respect” and tackle issues including housing and rural crime. He also reiterated that Labour would not bring in Scottish-style “right to roam” rules but said access to the countryside could be increased, for example by opening up closed footpaths.

Steve Reed

Mr Reed accused the Government of failing to improve rural economies, tackle countryside crime and reverse declines in nature.

He said: “Labour will treat the countryside with respect”, outlining the party’s policies, from its plan for a state-owned clean energy company to greater mental health support, more teachers in schools and a focus on skills, that he said would benefit people in the countryside.

Acknowledging he is not from a countryside background, Mr Reed said: “People from urban areas – like me – will not tell people who live and work in the countryside how they should live their lives.”
He pledged Labour would increase police patrols in towns and villages, adding: “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.”
And he told delegates: “We need more homes but they will not be built at the expense of the environment.”

He said he wanted to see “biodiversity net gain” – the requirement that developers have to boost nature by 10% linked to development – work, adding: “New homes will be built with tree-lined streets and access to green spaces and nature on their doorsteps.”

Mr Reed also pledged to make effective the environmental land management scheme of payments for farmers, which includes SFI, speed up building of flood defences and slash planning decision waiting times to enable farmers, landowners and rural businesses to plug renewables into the grid.

Speaking after the conference, Nick Herbert (Lord Herbert of South Downs), Chairman of the Countryside Alliance and co-founder of Future Countryside, said:

"The event brought together individuals and organisations united by the view that the countryside matters and should be for all.  On the eve of an election, this was a timely and important opportunity for us to demand that political leaders recognise the value and potential of rural Britain and ensure they give the countryside the attention and priority it deserves".


Become a member

Join the Countryside Alliance

We are the most effective campaigning organisation in the countryside.

  • life Protect our way of life
  • news Access our latest news
  • insurance Benefit from insurance cover
  • magazine Receive our magazine