‘Rural vote is key in election’ say leaders of farm industry

FARMING LEADERS have stressed the rural vote will be key in next year’s General Election as they urged Labour to display a unified show of support for the agricultural industry.

Meurig Raymond: Has called for politicians to start backing the farming industry.

The NFU claimed Labour leader Ed Miliband’s front-bench team should be proactively seeking to support the farming community, and not wait until another flooding disaster or heightened global food crisis to back farmers.

The organisation’s president, Meurig Raymond, has set out why the rural vote could be a key factor in what is likely to be a close General Election with a call for politicians to start backing the industry.

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Mr Raymond told The Yorkshire Post that the NFU would work with any political party, but made a plea for MPs to stop thinking of the environment as a problem they have to step in to solve.

He pointed to long-running calls for better flood defence funding as an area where parties could have intervened at any point over the last 20 years rather than waiting for disaster to hit the UK. His comments come alongside a warning to Ukip that migrant workers are highly valued by many farmers.

The Pembrokeshire farmer claimed many in the Labour Party are only just waking up to the farming vote, and said: “If you park some issues like bovine TB, then some get it. Hilary Benn understood the importance of food and farming. Lord Rooker was another one, he wanted to go out and kill every damn badger in the country.

“There have been some very good Labour Ministers. We have discussions with opposition members now, some get it and some are less interested. I’ve had some fairly interesting discussions with Maria Eagle, and I’ll leave it at that.

“We can only hammer these points; there will be disagreements. Irrespective of party colour, food inflation is a big issue, just imagine another price spike, if there had been a difficult harvest this time in Europe or the US, goodness knows what would have happened. They get this, but they could be, they all could be, more enthusiastic. That’s our role, to get more commitments.”

Mr Raymond maintained the likelihood of a close General Election result meant the farming vote was more important than ever.

He added: “We are apolitical, we represent our members whoever is in government, we have to work well with the Secretary of State. Whoever they are, I just want them to back British farming. There are people on all sides that I have huge respect for.

“There will be seats in this country where the country vote, the farming vote could swing a constituency. Think of George Eustice down in Cornwall, with a 66-vote majority, some of these rural seats are very, very slim majorities.”

The NFU president said that there were still question marks over how farmer-friendly Ukip actually was, saying the majority of farmers would be “extremely nervous” about repatriating EU subsidy schemes.

Mr Raymond admitted there are concerns over a readily available workforce for farming, adding: “There is not point investing £2,000 in a crop if you are not able to get it harvested.”