Use marginals to be heard

18 May 2001

Use marginals to be heard

By Mike Stones

VOTERS have a key chance to elect MPs sympathetic to farming and countryside concerns in the marginal rural constituencies of Britain, according to farming organisations.

“The fate of marginal seats may not influence the outcome of the election but it is a chance to elect MPs who are friends of the farming industry,” says Barney Holbeche, NFU head of parliamentary affairs.

“And, it is in farmings interests to have as many friends as possible in parliament.”

Marginal Rural Seats
  Majority Previous
Wellingborough 187 C
Kettering 189 C
Milton Keynes NE 240 C
Rugby & Kenilworth 495 C
Northampton South 744 C
Lancaster & Wyre 1295 C
Norfolk North West 1339 C
Braintree 1451 C
Shrewsbury & Atcham 1670 C
Conwy 1596 LD
Sittingbourne & Sheppey 1929 C
Colne Valley 2530 LD
Clwyd West 1848 C
Stroud 2910 C
Inverness East, Nairn & Lochaber 2839 SNP
Falmouth & Camborne 2688 C
Hastings & Rye 2560 C
Warwick & Leamington 3398 C
Newark 3016 C
Oldham East & Saddleworth 3389 LD
Thanet South 2878 C
Wrekin,The 3025 C
Selby 3836 C
Carmarthen East & Dinefwr 3450 PC
Stafford 4314 C
Monmouth 4178 C
Wansdyke 4799 C
Ribble South 5084 C
Scarborough & Whitby 5124 C
Dorset South 77 Lab
Teignbridge 281 LD
Hexham 222 Lab
Lichfield 238 Lab
Bury St Edmunds 368 Lab
Wells 528 LD
Meriden 582 Lab
Dorset Mid & Poole N 681 LD
Boston & Skegness 847 Lab
Beverley & Holderness 811 Lab
Totnes 877 LD
Bosworth 1027 Lab
Norfolk North 1293 LD
Norfolk Mid 1336 Lab
Eddisbury 1185 Lab
Tiverton & Honiton 1653 LD
Bridgwater 1796 LD
Dorset West 1840 LD
Suffolk West 1867 Lab
Norfolk South West 2464 Lab
Basingstoke 2397 Lab
Shropshire North 2195 Lab
Surrey South West 2694 LD
Grantham & Stamford 2692 Lab
Dorset North 2746 LD
Suffolk Coastal 3254 Lab
Hertfordshire NE 3088 Lab
Wiltshire North 3475 LD
Suffolk Central & Ipswich North 3538 Lab
Yorkshire East 3337 Lab
Stone 3818 Lab
Canterbury 3964 Lab
Worcestershire West 3846 LD
Suffolk South 4175 Lab
Banbury 4737 Lab
Rushcliffe 5055 Lab
Derbyshire West 4885 Lab
Westmorland & Lonsdale 4521 LD
Cambs NE 5101 Lab
Bromsgrove 4895 Lab
Sleaford & North Hykeham 5123 Lab
Ashford 5355 Lab
Liberal Democrats
Winchester 2 C
Somerton & Frome 130 C
Lewes 1300 C
Devon West & Torridge 1957 C
Northavon 2137 C
Taunton 2443 C
Isle of Wight 6406 C
Plaid Cymru
Ynys Mon 2481 Lab
Source: NFU

His organisation has identified 29 Labour seats, 41 Conservative seats, seven Liberal Democrat seats and one Plaid Cymru seat which it believes to be marginal. There are a further nine in Scotland.

That gives voters in these constituencies the chance to select a candidate who favours farming interests and to make all candidates listen to their point of view.

Food and farming is very much on the political agenda, he said.

“No government is beyond the forces of nature as the postponement of the election due to foot-and-mouth, revealed. And all political parties have shown an interest in rural areas.”

Voter apathy is, he believes, a big danger.

“Differences between the parties are more of nuance than major policy and younger voters are becoming increasingly disillusioned with politics,” he says.

But failing to vote would be to surrender control of the countryside to others who do bother to vote.

“June the seventh should be a time for farmers to swallow hard and put aside recent angers and frustrations.

“They should look ahead to see where agriculture is going and vote for candidate which they believe is most likely to progress farming in the right direction.”

Political director of the Country Land and Business Association, Nick Way, agrees that the large number of rural marginal seats provides a chance for the countryside.

“Any party that wants to be returned to Westminster can win only by claiming a large number of rural seats,” he says.

“The election gives rural voters the opportunity to reinforce the urgency of that need with candidates and to elect those who are most likely to deliver.”

Questions test commitment

DONT miss the chance to question prospective parliamentary candidates about their views on farming, the countryside and rural economy.

It will help them understand the importance of farming and could help you decide whom to vote for, says Nick Way, political director of the Country Land and Business Association.

Mr Way already has a query to test candidates who visit his home near Witney in Oxfordshire.

“Irrespective of the rights and wrongs of joining the Euro, how are you going to ensure that UK farmers compete with the same level of support as their European counterparts?

“If the reply is tough luck, I cant be too confident about them supporting the industry,” he says.

Another advocate of doorstep politics is Barney Holbeche, NFU head of Parliamentary Affairs.

“Since the polls say Tony Blair is likely to win a large majority, there is even more reason to question his candidates on rural issues.”

Mr Holbeche believes sympathy for farming is more important than detailed knowledge

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