Delayed political reshuffles stifle progress on farm policy

Delays to reshuffles at the top of the two main political parties are holding up progress on agricultural policy development ahead of the next election, farm leaders have warned.

Conservative Defra secretary Therese Coffey and her Labour counterpart, Jim McMahon, have been tipped as two of the frontbenchers most likely to lose their jobs in any upcoming restructure, prompting concern about the future direction of travel for policy.

Martin Lines, chief executive of the Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN), said: “Labour have strong views around public access and access to nature with Jim [McMahon], but will whoever follows have that same drive?

See also: Editor’s view: Coffey’s last stand should cheer farmers

“None of the parties will say too much. But I do hope they will give some clear indications about what they expect farmers to deliver at their conferences in the autumn.”

A Conservative reshuffle was widely expected to take place in July, before parliament went into recess over summer, but defence secretary Ben Wallace’s announcement that he planned to leave government when it took place is believed to have scuppered prime minister Rishi Sunak’s plans.

George Dunn, chief executive of the Tenant Farmers Association, said: “Labour is waiting for the Conservatives to move and the Conservatives are not moving.

“We’re now hearing the reshuffle is going to be September. If the election is in May, which is being mooted, it doesn’t give them much time to get things in place.”

Agricultural leaders are now calling on all parties to set out their farming stalls ahead of the election, including budget commitments.

But there is growing concern that Labour, in particular, will be reluctant to share much detail following previous election defeats when comprehensive manifestos were published.

Vicki Hird, head of food and farming at Sustain, said: “It ripped them apart having very detailed manifestos. They’ll be very nervous about that. All the messages I’ve been getting are it’s going to be much more topline.”

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