Labour needs to fix its 'rural problem' to have a chance of forming future government, says Countryside Alliance

Labour needs to fix its 'rural problem' according to the Countryside AllianceLabour needs to fix its 'rural problem' according to the Countryside Alliance
Labour needs to fix its 'rural problem' according to the Countryside Alliance
Conservative policies putting the traditional party of rural seats at odds with those living on the coast and in the countryside could create opportunities for opposition parties, it has been suggested, as a new report exposes how Labour has “ignored” constituencies outside urban areas.

A report from the Countryside Alliance, released exclusively today to The Yorkshire Post, has warned Labour needs to fix its “rural problem” if it has any chance of forming a future government.

Read our full special report into the document.

And Baroness Mallalieu, president of the Countryside Alliance and Labour peer, said: “Labour’s rejection by rural communities cannot continue to be the elephant in the countryside.”

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Labour now holds just 17 of the 199 rural or semi-rural seats in the UK, whereas in 1997 and 2001 this number was more than 100.

Luke Pollard, Labour’s shadow environment secretary, said he was determined Labour under Sir Keir Starmer would become the natural party of the countryside.

But George Eustice, his counterpart in government, said: “Nationally, the Conservative Party has always had a much stronger affinity and understanding with rural communities, whether that is agricultural communities, but many others besides who have been farmers themselves and so understand that particular area.”

The Countryside Alliance found that despite repeated warnings from left-leaning think-tank the Fabian Society, as well as an internal report from MP Maria Eagle, Labour continued to be viewed as a party representing metropolitan areas, and this was reflected in their vote share in the December election.

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The group said that by focusing on the urban voters Labour continually neglected the countryside and while continuing to do so will not reach anywhere near the number of MPs needed to topple Boris Johnson in 2024 or 2029.

The report said: “The inability, or perhaps even unwillingness, to resolve those issues has meant that Labour has consistently failed to engage with the rural electorate.”

And Baroness Mallalieu added: “I’m afraid that message was not learnt in the last election. Labour has to stop thinking about the countryside as a place of recreation for urban dwellers.”

But she revealed that she was more positive about the future, as she said Sir Keir had at least replied to the Countryside Alliance’s invitation to meet.

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“There has been a very marked silence from a string of Labour leaders, but Keir Starmer responded saying yes, he would like to meet.”

She called on Sir Keir to bring together Labour members of the Commons and the Lords with rural interests in one group to help develop policy going forwards.

Research director at the Fabian Society, Luke Raikes, said: “There are a lot of opportunities for Labour, but the difficulty is to not just criticise the Government's actions but to present a positive alternative.”

Some of the policies recently introduced by the Tories could put Labour in a stronger position, former MP for Keighley and Selby John Grogan suggested.

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When he was the MP for Selby, Mr Grogan held the most rural Labour seat in the country, and he said: “You've got to be pretty ruthless in opposition in looking for government policies which are going to cause trouble in the countryside.

“The obvious one for me at the moment is the planning reforms, which would seem to have two possibilities for the party to get stuck in on.

“One is it seems to be that no longer will big developments be linked to affordable housing, that will be done at a more national level, and two that there will be less opportunity for local people to get involved on local planning issues, and a lot of local politics in the countryside does involve local planning decisions, and that's where people cut their teeth as local politicians, so that would seem to me to be a possibility.”

Read our full special report into the document.


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