Conservatives lose polling lead in rural areas, new research suggests

The Conservatives have all but lost their polling lead in rural areas, new research suggests.

The Tories now have just a two percentage point lead on Labour in the countryside, according to a survey by the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) down from 15 percentage points at the 2019 election.

A Yorkshire MP has now said that “Governments of all colours” have for decades “failed to develop an ambitious plan for the rural economy,” and called on figures to turn their attention to countryside issues “urgently”.

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The CLA and pollsters Survation surveyed 1,000 people in rural communities across England and Wales, including in North Yorkshire.

Snowy scenes in Kirklees, West Yorkshire (PA)

Of those asked, 38 per cent said they would vote Conservative, and 36 per cent Labour, down from 46 per cent who voted for Boris Johnson in 2019, and 29 per cent who backed Jeremy Corbyn’s party.

Two thirds of respondents (66 per cent) said that the Government is not doing enough to create prosperity in rural communities, and almost four in five (79 per cent) said that a lack of affordable housing is driving young people out of the countryside.

York Outer MP Julian Sturdy has said that “the truth is that for decades governments of all colours have failed to develop an ambitious plan for the rural economy.”

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The Conservative MP added: “Farming is obviously hugely important to the countryside, but 85 per cent of rural businesses have nothing to do with farming or forestry.

“We need to recognise the potential of these businesses in creating broader opportunity and prosperity.

“Then we need to identify the barriers to their success and begin to remove them.

“People rightly want a good job and an affordable home.

“The Levelling Up White Paper was the perfect opportunity to uncover why they can be so hard to find in the countryside, but rural issues were largely absent. I think that’s been noticed by people and needs to be addressed urgently.”

CLA President Mark Tufnell said: “Too often good policy-making falls between the cracks in government departments.

"Everybody assumes DEFRA is responsible for the countryside, but it doesn’t really have the powers to deliver policies designed to support businesses in the rural economy.

"So no department does anything. I suspect that is why the Levelling Up White Paper showed precious little interest in those living and working in the countryside.

“No party should take rural voters for granted. 2019 showed us that the old tribal loyalties of politics are dissipating. Any party that comes up with a genuinely ambitious plan to grow the economy in rural areas would, I suspect, win a great deal of support.”