Conservatives face losing key rural seats as Rishi Sunak enters tough week as PM

The Conservatives face losing key areas of its core rural seats, new polling has suggested, as the Prime Minister enters a key week of his premiership.

New analysis of voting in England’s 100 most rural constituencies by the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) suggested that the Tories have seen support drop by 25 points since the last election.

Labour’s vote share is now 37 per cent, while Rishi Sunak’s party sits on 34 per cent, according to the Survation polling, with voters feeling that Labour better understands and respects rural communities and their way of life.

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Country Land and Business Association President Victoria Vyvyan said: “This poll makes it clear that rural voters up and down the country feel politically homeless and disconnected from central government – but their votes are still up for grabs. Whichever party produces a robust and ambitious plan for growth in the rural economy will undoubtedly secure support.”

Rishi Sunak visits a bus depot in Harrogate.Rishi Sunak visits a bus depot in Harrogate.
Rishi Sunak visits a bus depot in Harrogate.

The Prime Minister yesterday defended the amount that the Government was doing for councils covering rural areas during a visit to Harrogate in North Yorkshire.

The county’s Conservative-run council is facing a black hole in its budget, with several councils in Yorkshire such as Bradford and Kirklees in similarly precarious positions.

Pressures such as social care, special needs education and the cost of energy has contributed to a £41.6 million deficit.

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When asked if he was worried about the council’s finances, the Richmond MP said that ministers have put £600 million into local government across the North.

“Rural areas like North Yorkshire also get specific money because of the difficulty in delivering services,” he told reporters.

“On top of that, the government is investing in local communities whether that’s in transport or levelling up, so they are getting direct investment.”

The visit, part of a new tactic to spend three days a week out meeting voters and visiting constituencies, kicked off the beginning of one of the most difficult weeks of the Prime Minister’s troubled premiership.

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On Thursday new economic data will show whether the UK has gone into a recession, which could further damage Mr Sunak’s plan to get the country’s finances back on track ahead of the next election.

Despite his pledge to grow the economy, figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) could show a contraction in the final three months of last year, meaning the UK is in a recession after two consecutive quarters of negative growth.

Mr Sunak insisted during his visit to Harrogate that the economy had “turned a corner” though recent years had been “undoubtedly difficult”.

But he declined to say whether entering a technical recession would end the prospect of further tax cuts.

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“At the start of this year I really believe the economy has turned a corner and we are heading in the right direction.” he said.

On Friday the Conservatives could see as many as two defeats in by-elections in Wellingborough and Kingswood when results from the two formerly safe Tory seats come in.

They were vacated by disgraced former Tory MP Peter Bone, who an inquiry found broke bullying and sexual misconduct rules, and Chris Skidmore, who quit in protest at the Government’s plans to boost oil and gas production.

Yesterday new polling from Redfield and Wilton Strategies suggested that the Conservatives are on the lowest vote share under Rishi Sunak, at 21 per cent, trailing Labour by 25 points, the largest lead in almost a year.

Further by-election defeats for Mr Sunak could galvanise Tory plotters who have called for him to move aside or risk disaster for the party at the general election later this year.