Opinion: Are the Tories heading for an election kicking?

In July 1973, the Liberal party won a by-election to take my local seat from the Conservatives by 946 votes.

Not quite the landslide the Lib Dems had in North Shropshire last December, but significant in the sort of area where, as Tony Banks MP once put it, you could put up a pig’s bladder on a stick as a Tory candidate and people would vote for it.

I was old enough by a matter of days in 1973 to put my X in the box and vote Liberal in that by-election.

My mother was furious, but then she was a pig’s bladder supporter.

Or rather, she had the country person’s inbuilt suspicion of anything but the devil you know, and the Conservatives were the devil she knew.

See also: Stuart Roberts joins Lib Dems to advise on farm policy

About the author

Paul Cobb
Farmers Weekly Opinion writer
Paul Cobb is a Kent-based independent environmental land management adviser and a partner in FWAG (Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group) South East.
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What would she make of the current political scene?

The escapades at 10 Downing Street would surely have deserved a tongue lashing, and she would have looked at the implications for farming of the new trade deals with dismay.

Like many in the countryside, she would struggle to identify her interests with those of the party now in power.

Support for the Conservatives among farmers is on the slide, we are told, but will the new North Shropshire MP go the way of my MP, defeated at the next general election?

What does it take to make a whole section of voters decide to turn their backs on a traditional ally, like the “Red Wall” of Labour constituencies did last time?

MPs are not their parties, of course, and individual Tory MPs can and do work hard for farming in their own areas.

But getting to influence national policy is a different matter, whatever the party – and no party’s policy is led by rural issues.

Those who see the Conservatives as the “natural ally” of landowning and farming interests should ask themselves what has happened to the bonfire of red tape promised since Brexit, or to legislation brought in by Labour like the fox-hunting ban?  

You only have to look at the influencers around the Tory party to see why their policy goes in the direction it does – Zac Goldsmith, Dieter Helm and, not least, Mrs Johnson. And if Chris Packham says something, people jump.

NFU president Minette Batters does a great job speaking up for farming, but the NFU represents a far smaller membership than the RSPB.

The Lib Dems might seem the natural alternative, but the greatest attempts at increasing home food production – the 1947 Agriculture Act and the 1976 White Paper “Food from Our Own Resources” – both came under Labour governments. Brexit, and the dismantling of the Basic Payment Scheme, aren’t quite the same.

Labour struggles to apply any leverage outside its traditional urban heartland. But if it doesn’t know much about rural matters, at least it doesn’t pretend to.

Having a sense of entitlement isn’t just about flouting your own lockdown rules, it’s about a conviction that you deserve to hold a rural seat because you always have.

When crippling price inflation hits town and country in different ways, but just as savagely, someone who fails to act or even recognise the problem deserves a kicking.

Two years from now, when you stand poised at the ballot box, will most farmers stay true blue? Or will they vote orange, red or even green for a change?

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