The Conservative Party’s commitment to the countryside and the rural voter has been debated at two fringe events at the Tory Party annual conference in Bournemouth.
A Countryside Alliance fringe addressed the question: “Do the Conservatives love the countryside?” Meanwhile, the Conservative Rural Action Group asked: “Does the rural vote matter’?
Amanda Platell, political commentator and a former press secretary to William Hague, was sceptical about the Tories under David Cameron.
“True Conservatives love the countryside, but I’m not sure David Cameron’s Tories do,” she said. “The problem with the countryside is there are more sheep than votes,” she said, explaining that the political reality is that any party who is serious about being elected had to win the urban vote. “Any party needs a minimum 325 seats to govern and the majority of them are in urban areas.”
Ms Plattell’s remarks were dismissed by shadow junior DEFRA minister Jim Paice who said Mr Cameron was very interested in the issues he encountered at this year’s Royal Show.
But Mr Paice acknowledged that the Conservatives faced a challenge in appealing to urban voters without appearing complacent to its rural supporters.
At the CRAG meeting, Tory candidate and West Country farmer Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones said: “We [the Conservative party] need people in the party to stick their neck out and champion rural issues, I don’t see people doing that.”
* NFU president Peter Kendall has told the Conservative Party Conference that agriculture has the capacity to produce alternative sources of energy such as biofuels and biomass, but needs a simplified regulatory regime to encourage entrepreneurialism.
Speaking from the main platform, Mr Kendall said that a combination of increasing demand for food and fuel, and the impact of climate change on the ability of the world’s farmers to meet demand, meant that “not since the second world war has our land, our farming and our farmers been so important as a resource”.
But he said, for farmers to really meet the demands being placed on them, the government first needed to implement a “sensible regulatory regime”.
For more on the conference see Farmers Weekly out on Friday (6 Oct).