Opinion: Why I’ll be flying the red flag at the election

I have joined the Labour Party. I know, I didn’t expect me to ever write that in these pages either.

I’m hardly a dyed-in-the-wool socialist (I’ve always voted Lib Dem) but, after nearly 13 years of Conservative misrule, enough is enough.

As readers of this column might remember, I was not exactly a fan of Brexit, but that’s not the reason for me joining Labour – Keir Starmer is not offering to take the UK back into Europe.

What caused me to switch to Labour was their commitment to abolish the House of Lords and replace it with an elected body with strong representation of the regions.

About the author

Stephen Carr
Farmers Weekly Opinion writer
Stephen Carr runs an 800ha beef, sheep and arable farm on the South Downs near Eastbourne in Sussex in partnership with his wife and four of his daughters. He also runs a nearby pub with his nephew, The Sussex Ox, which serves the farm’s beef, lamb, (and fruit and vegetables from the farmhouse kitchen-garden in season) through its restaurant.
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See also: Opinion – why I’m bucking the trend and expanding my suckler herd

It’s always been a huge irritant to me that our proposed laws, whether they relate to farming or other issues, are scrutinised and amended by an unelected body.

This so-called “Upper House” is loaded to the gunwales with hereditary peers, bishops, party donors (who have effectively bought their seats), party loyalists and ageing MPs no longer up to the rough-and-tumble of the Commons.

Farmers turn against Conservatives

The last time Farmers Weekly asked its readership how they would vote “if there were a general election tomorrow”, in late October and early November of last year, only 42% said they would vote Conservative, down from 72% in 2020.

At the same time, the number of farmers who would have voted Labour increased from 10% to 24%, so I’m by no means unusual.

I’ve no idea exactly what has caused so many of my farming peers to declare against the Conservatives but, given the shambles of the past decade, where does one start?

Could it be the trade deals that Liz Truss signed with New Zealand and Australia soon after Brexit that even the then-Defra minister, George Eustice, now admits gave away “far too much for far too little”?

Or perhaps English farmers are fed up with how the £2.3bn/year that has been spent on the BPS before Brexit is gradually being redistributed after Brexit?

The Environmental Land Management scheme, which has already taken a ludicrous six years to develop (with farming organisations barely consulted during the process), proposes that up to one-third of spending will fund the rewilding of 3% of English farmland, with hardly any money being used to incentivise English farmers to produce food.

Maybe, though, farmers are just fed up with an endless succession of Defra ministers delivering off-hand speeches at NFU annual conferences, of which Therese Coffey’s let-them-eat-turnips effort last month was the latest, depressing example.

Food trade measures

Frankly, who could blame any of us for being tempted by the managerial Starmer with his reputation for forensic, calm analysis?

Particularly after the exhausting Conservative Party divisions over Brexit that consumed Cameron, May, Johnson and Truss in quick succession, and now threaten Rishi Sunak.

Starmer’s emphasis on more things being “made in Britain” also suggests that Labour would introduce measures to tackle the UK’s mushrooming £27bn food trade deficit – an initiative that would cheer up all farmers.

As a Labour Party member, I now get regular emails from Party HQ inviting me to meetings and even to stand as a Labour candidate for local councils.

So, if you hear a knock on your farmhouse door in the coming months, please be warned, comrade. It might be me seeking your vote.

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