THE LABOUR Party has “never been seen as more remote” from the interests of rural Britain and faces “huge” problems overcoming perceptions that it is metropolitan and London-centric, a damning internal party report has warned.
The report was drawn up by the office of the then Shadow Rural Affairs Secretary Maria Eagle in the wake of last year’s General Election defeat, when Labour lost ground in many countryside constituencies.
But it is understood that party leader Jeremy Corbyn made no response to Ms Eagle or her successor, Kerry McCarthy, after it was submitted in September last year. Aides insisted that this was because the report was never received.
A search of Mr Corbyn’s email inbox conducted over the past few days found no trace of it, according to insiders.
The report, which has been obtained by the New Statesman and the Sunday Telegraph, said that 20 of the 106 target seats Labour must win to regain power are in the countryside, adding: “Indisputably the route map to Number 10 runs through rural Britain”.
But it warned: “The Labour Party has never been seen as more remote from the interests of rural Britain as it is now. Much of the Party treats the countryside with polite indifference. Such is the level of crisis that nothing should be off the table to overcome this.”
In 2015, the report notes, “the more rural the constituency, the worse Labour performed. In market towns and villages across the country, the party hurtled backwards in areas which not long ago regularly returned Labour representatives”.
The report voiced concern that many Labour activists and representatives seem to regard the countryside as naturally Conservative and to treat engaging with rural voters as “at best an afterthought, and at worst a complete waste of time”.
Labour should not allow organisations like the National Farmers’ Union and the Countryside Alliance to define the rural agenda as being about issues like badger culling and foxhunting, which affect few people, it said.
Instead, the party should develop “an alternative Labour vision” addressing the high levels of material deprivation and isolation from services and opportunities in some rural communities which feel they been left behind in the globalised world.
“The perception problems are huge – not just rural voters’ perception of Labour, but more crucially Labour’s perception of rural voters,” said the report.
But it added: “With the Liberal Democrats wiped out across much of the country, and the Conservative Party fixated on a narrow materialism unconcerned with the real issues facing the countryside, Labour can seize the moment to fill the vacuum and become the authentic voice of rural Britain.”
The rural communities across Yorkshire remain predominantly Conservative heartlands, and Labour failed to capitalise on the decimation of the Liberal Democrats at the last General Election, allowing David Cameron to form the first Conservative majority government since 1992.
There are now mounting concerns that the Labour Party has become even more divorced from the issues which are affected rural communities under Mr Corbyn’s tenure.
However, a spokesman for Mr Corbyn said: “Labour under Jeremy’s leadership is committed to reaching out to all areas of the country. It was Jeremy and our new Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) lead Rachel Maskell who led the way on responding to the floods that hit this year.”