Labour’s recent campaign in Batley and Spen showed us exactly what happens when we stay focused on our values of hope and solidarity. What happens when we show up in numbers and listen carefully to the voters we speak to. When we stay rooted in our communities, we win. This must be just the start.
Labour has a strong message of hope and opportunity, for a better recovery from the pandemic to create a fairer, more equal society for us all. We need to make sure that we’re taking that message not just to our towns and cities, but to the countryside as well. That’s why I’m so excited to be leading Labour’s rural England policy review, a comprehensive campaign to build back the trust and support that we once enjoyed in rural areas.
In our landslide victories in 1997 and 2001, Labour won over 150 seats classed as rural or semi-rural. Currently we hold just 17. There’s sometimes a temptation to believe that Labour represents urban areas and Tories represent rural areas, but this is false logic and a trap we must not fall into. Labour has won trust in rural communities before and we have to do so again. There really is no path to Downing Street that doesn’t go through acre after acre of the countryside.
Speaking to the concerns and aspirations of rural voters, reflecting their priorities in our policies, is simply the right thing to do. Rural communities have been an afterthought for this Conservative government for too long. The Tories have been taking rural voters for granted. That’s why we must be on ballot papers so that every electoral contest has a Labour candidate for people to vote for, in communities, on the doorsteps, in local press and in policy debates in parish councils and county councils, from town halls to parliament. It’s time our countryside regained its voice in Westminster, and we do that by electing more Labour MPs in rural areas with values shared by rural voters who will put their community first.
That’s where I need your help. If you’re part of a rural or semi-rural Constituency Labour Party, I’d encourage you to direct your fellow members to contribute to our online policy review. This call for evidence asks people what they love about rural areas and what needs to change to help rural communities achieve their full potential. Living in the countryside is awesome, but we know that there are challenges too. Your answers to our 12 consultation questions will help to shape the direction of Labour’s rural policies, not just in relation to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs but across the frontbench.
Labour’s shadow Defra team is keen to attend rural CLP meetings as often as possible. We want to tell party members about the rural review and hear what you have to say. If your CLP would like a Labour MP to virtually attend a local meeting, please get in touch. I want to see our rural CLPs holding more virtual events so that as many different people as possible can contribute to this review, giving everyone the space to have their say on how our rural policy needs to change. The deadline is Saturday, July 31st, and the findings from this crucial first phase will be reported at party conference in September.
Labour has already built some solid foundations upon which to grow our rural support. We have pledged to grow more of our food here in Britain, investing to create green collar jobs. We will back our small family farms, instead of importing food produced to lower standards from the other side of the planet. Labour is speaking up for rural voters in a way the Tories are not. Let’s seize on our recent rural electoral wins in May and build a manifesto that gives as much hope and opportunity to those who live in rural areas as those who live in towns and cities.