Farmer support for Tories waning as problems mount up

Support for the Conservative Party among farmers has slipped below 50% for the first time in living memory as enthusiasm for what has traditionally been regarded as the “party of the countryside” has waned.

Farmers Weekly’s annual Sentiment Survey shows that, when asked how they would vote if there was a general election tomorrow, just 42% said they would vote Conservative.

This compares with the 57% who said they would vote that way a year ago, and 72% who would have voted Tory in 2020 – a figure that was much more in step with the farming community’s traditional voting pattern.

See also: Conservatives haemorrhaging rural support, says YouGov

The shift in support last year was mainly attributed to the chaos surrounding the then prime minister Boris Johnson, whose reputation among farmers was marred by the “partygate” scandal and his ill-advised comments about the plight of the pig sector.

The continued slide this year is seemingly linked to the political turmoil that followed Mr Johnson’s resignation in early July.

Our survey, which attracted about 600 farmer responses, was conducted in late October/early November, just at the time that Liz Truss’ short leadership of the country was coming to an end, as her “go for growth” policies and uncosted tax cuts had unravelled.


It was not just City traders who appeared spooked by this.

Asked what they thought of the government’s handling of the economy, one-third of farmers said it was “highly risky and probably damaging”, while another third said it was “ineffective and wouldn’t make much difference”.

Just one-third praised the government for “doing the right thing in difficult circumstances”.

It was also no coincidence that Liz Truss replaced Boris Johnson as the “most annoying” politician in 2022 in our survey, with 30% giving her that accolade compared with 23% for her predecessor.

Conversely, Rishi Sunak was cited as the “most impressive” politician of the past 12 months, with 18% of the vote.


The slide in support for the Tories has come as little surprise to polling expert Adam Drummond, associate director at Opinium.

“Among voters more generally, the Conservatives have lost their reputation for competence, particularly on handling the economy, and this change in the national mood is being reflected even more starkly among farmers,” he said.

“Some of this shift may be down to the effects of Brexit, and some of it may be farmers remembering Liz Truss’s time at Defra less than fondly.

“But the fact that farmers are moving towards both main opposition parties in England at similar rates suggests a general disenchantment with the government rather than any great love of Labour or the Lib Dems.”


The survey shows that departing Conservative voters have split their allegiances almost equally between Labour and the Liberal Democrats, with each attracting 23% of the farming vote if there was a snap election tomorrow.

The Conservatives still led the field in Scotland with 38% support, closely followed by the SNP at 30%. Welsh farmers were more strongly Conservative at 44%, with Plaid Cymru appealing to 15% of farmer voters, compared with 19% each for the Liberal Democrats and Labour.

Owner-occupiers were also more strongly Conservative at 56%, while the Tories only appealed to 22% of tenants, who much preferred the Liberal Democrats, with 38% support.

Politicians’ views: How well has the current government served farmers?

Mark Spencer, Defra farming minister and Conservative MP for Sherwood, has sought to defend his party’s record in government.

“I’m a farmer myself and I recognise the pressures currently facing the sector, which is why we’ve brought forward 50% of the BPS payment, increased the employment allowance, slashed fuel duty, created the Energy Bill Relief Scheme, introduced 50% business rates relief, and put a break on bill increases by freezing the business rates multiplier,” he said.

“We will always back our British farmers and are committed to investing £2.4bn a year in the sector during this parliament. Labour and the Lib Dems would have failed both farmers and the environment by keeping us tied to the bureaucratic Common Agricultural Policy.”

But Labour shadow farming minister Daniel Zeichner said the government had let farmers down at a time of soaring input costs due to the war in Europe, disease challenges and extremes of weather.

“At such times, we rightly look to government for help and support, but too often this government has either been slow, or has seemed indifferent,” he said.

He also mentioned food security, suggesting that farmers were increasingly attracted to Labour’s promise to “buy, make and sell more in Britain”.

Liberal Democrat agriculture spokesman Tim Farron went further, saying the Conservatives had “taken farmers and rural people for granted”.

“The government has failed farmers with botched trade deals, failed to implement a payment system that works, while the constant tweaking [of policy] causes even more uncertainty,” he said. “The Conservatives simply no longer understand farmers’ needs.”

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