Are farmers flocking to the Lib Dems?

There is a stereotype around and about. That farmers vote Tory. Of course, many farmers vote Tory as do many non-farmers. But a growing number of farmers are supporting the Lib Dems. We saw this in North Shropshire where orange diamonds went up in fields across the constituency. This week, Stuart Roberts the outgoing deputy president of the National Farmers Union (NFU), previously a Conservative councillor, joined the Liberal Democrats.

There is a modal shift underway in rural areas. Areas and occupations previously seen as “true blue” are getting fed up with the way they have been ignored by the Conservative government. It is not just about farming. The lack of affordable housing, the growth of second homes and the paucity of public transport concern rural voters. As does the cost of fuel for vehicles and to heat homes. The Tories are ignoring these issues. They are ignoring the reality that many small farms are likely to go out of business as funding schemes change. Far from being protectors of the countryside as they have boasted in the past, the Conservatives are increasingly seen as its enemy.

Stuart Roberts, who owns and manages a farm in Hertfordshire, was previously a Conservative Councillor in Hertfordshire. Commenting on his political transition, he said:

It is time politicians spoke up for rural communities who urgently need help and support.

The Liberal Democrats have proved they want to listen and engage with farmers who have been taken for granted by the Conservative party. What I have heard from Ed Davey and rural Lib Dem MPs such as Tim Farron is a party determined to campaign for policies which support the farming industry.  I will be delighted to help the party’s newly formed Food and Farming Working Group in developing the right policies for farmers and consumers across the country.

British farmers and food producers are amongst the best in the world and they are ready to deliver high quality, sustainable food produced in harmony with the environment and animal welfare.  Yet time and time again this Conservative Government has badly let down farmers and rural communities.

This is a pivotal moment for farmers with food security never a more important issue than today.

Stuart is of course not the only Lib Dem farmer. Tim Farron and Phil Benyon immediately come to my mind. I am sure you can name many others. Richard Huffer, a Lib Dem councillor in Shropshire, has just finished lambing on a hill above Ludlow. He told me:

Stuart Roberts’ move to the Lib Dems highlights the complete lack of confidence farmers now have in Conservatives supporting the agricultural industry through the biggest changes seen in a generation. He is probably the best placed person to take on the role. He has the knowledge of farming policy. He will be a huge asset for the Lib Dems.

The phasing out of Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) support payments and its replacement with a new agricultural policy that will only offer a small proportion of the money lost will put many farms out of business.

What’s more, the government have already started to reduce payments without the replacement policy even being fit and ready to go, much is still in consultation.

The smaller family beef and sheep farms are at biggest risk. Without the BPS payment the vast majority fail to turn a profit. The current government seems happy to accept that many of these farms are unable to adapt and will go. Much consolidation is predicted within the industry, with bigger farms getting bigger.

The failure to recognise the wider value that smaller family farms bring to rural communities and environmental land management, as well as contributing to the food supply chain is frightening.

Recent trade deals with the likes of Australia and NZ serve as another hammer blow for beef and lamb producers, setting a precedent for similar trade deals with other countries. UK farms produce to the highest welfare standards and regulations in the world, adding to our cost of production. We cannot compete with cheap imports who have much lower costs and standards.

Another problem will new agricultural policy is it makes no mention of food security, focusing solely on environmental targets. While these are very important, surely food security should be on the agenda, particularly in light of the current global vitality?

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem councillor in Shropshire. He blogs at andybodders.co.uk. He is Thursday editor of Lib Dem Voice.

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12 Comments

  • Tristan Ward 1st May '22 - 4:36pm

    The new trade barriers due to Brexit are crazy of course – but now we hear from Rees-Mogg that implementing the Brexit deel is shooting Britain in the foot…

    No wonder farmers and food exporters are livid.

  • Yeovil Yokel 1st May '22 - 7:44pm

    People who work the land no longer form a significant proportion of the electorate, and perhaps that’s part of the reason the Conservatives no longer seem to see us as worth targeting in their election campaigns. But what we farmers do have still is significant land frontages onto roads, and this Spring I’ve been heartened to see numerous Lib Dem stakeboards (and, so far, not a single Conservative one!) in the fields of this part of South Somerset as part of our campaign to win back control of the county.

  • Peter Chambers 1st May '22 - 8:24pm

    Rees-Mogg has long spoken in favour of a hard Brexit with no customs and standards check on the GB side. Putting him in charge of the Brexit topic is a signal that the government now has that particular policy. He will be fine with demolishing those border installations because he never wanted them. He once described his view of a prospective border following leaving the EU as the fault of the EU as “we don’t want one”.
    Apparently ordinary people would be better off as removal of tariffs on inbound food and other staples would lower prices. And possibly wages. Certainly standards.
    Mill owners might cheer, until they folded, and disaster capitalists.
    There are a lot of outstanding questions as to who has bet against GB, and how much.

  • David Evans 1st May '22 - 10:25pm

    Andy is right if slightly understating it where he says ‘Areas and occupations previously seen as “true blue” are getting fed up with the way they have been ignored by the Conservative government.’

    The real word is betrayed Andy, ignored is insufficient to describe the the effect of the Trade surrenders with new Zealand and Australia, coupled with the wilful neglect shown in large parts of my area of Cumbria and the same applies to all agriculture other than the massive grain factory farmers of East Anglia.

    They have sacrificed their long term supporters just as Labour did under Blair. Labour were undermined in Scotland by a flag waving SNP. The Lib Dems can do the same to the Conservatives in England if we have the courage to drop all the trendy lefty stuff and just go for long standing liberal values of liberty, equality and community.

  • Mr David Robert Le G 1st May '22 - 10:52pm

    I’d always been a bit puzzled that we never made much serious effort to make support for rural communities part of our branding in the way that the various Nordic centre parties have done. We’ve historically done better in rural seats than elsewhere but were never able to capture the rural vote as a whole in the way that we managed to with say the student vote in the 2000s.

  • Barry Lofty 2nd May '22 - 9:33am

    I could not agree more with David Evans’ comments, could I add common sense and trustworthiness to the assets that are much needed in our country right now.

  • Why not run with the slogan, “No More Broken Promises!”..

    Perhaps not

  • David Evans 2nd May '22 - 10:28am

    Expats – What you say is, sadly, very true. Of course many Lib Dem councillors have never deliberately broken a promise. Sadly though, senior Lib Dems chose to break a very big promise made the one time when the Lib Dems were nationally prominent and the damage was done.

    It will be a long and winding road that will lead us back to that particular door once again, but our each and every Lib Dem councillor elected on Thursday can by their efforts once again get us a few steps further on that journey.

  • Traditional Conservatives might think themselves as the party for the country-side, or at least land-owners and those who run their own businesses (and therefore farmers), but the reality is that these days the Conservatives care far more about bankers or the kind of large businesses that use can make hefty donations to the party in exchange for favourable tax breaks and the ability to use cheap overseas labour.

    We have an opportunity to persuade smaller business owners, and rural communities that we care about them. That should include the more responsible farmers who see themselves as custodians of the land and who are keen, or at least willing with the right support, to adapt how they work to protect the environment.

    I’m not sure what David means by ‘dropping the trendy lefty stuff’. If he means the push towards more environmentally friendly farming practices, then I think he underestimates the wider farming community (and rural communities and the challenges we are facing). It’s also worth remembering that there’s a strong Social Democratic tradition in the party that is compatible with responsible rural policies and must not be abandoned for a few large land-owners – no matter how well they are situated for stake-boards.

  • Tristan Ward 3rd May '22 - 9:43am

    I suspect the “trendy lefty stuff” is directed primarily at veganism/vegetarianism.

    Of course directing what people may or may not eat is not very liberal, even if there are good reasons to move away from eating meat.

  • Andy Boddington is right to raise this. Farming, food production, and the environment are all huge issues. The Conservatives are saddled with post-Brexit problems, not least of which is that the EU’s plan for farming wasn’t great, but at least it was a plan. What he have now are some fine words which pander to various parts of the electorate, but which don’t constitute anything like a coherent set of policies. Some of it was written by Michael Gove, he of the Education Policy which famously got a D minus from anyone who knew anything at all about teaching.
    We are going to see many small farms disappear, adding to the ongoing destruction of the entire rural economy. The Liberal Democrats have a long history of understanding rural community issues, especially in the West Country. We ought to be able to build on that. However, many farmers will have to cross the hurdle of explaining to themselves why they were seduced by the Leave campaign, and thought getting rid of the CAP would solve their problems, before they can start voting Lib Dem again.

  • Anthony Acton 4th May '22 - 8:29am

    The farmers I know would respond to 3 clear policies – 1. grow more of our own food in the UK (obviously more sustainable in any case) 2. simplify the bureaucracy and make it work and 3. deal with the shortages of vets and farm workers. As for Brexit, more and more farmers can see that it was a con trick, but the party won’t win many new friends by rubbing faces with “I told you so” .

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