Conservative support plummets, leaving rural voters ‘politically homeless’ | Rural Affairs

Rural voters are becoming increasingly “politically homeless”, ministers have warned, as polls suggest support for the Tories in the countryside has declined rapidly.

Labor is the main beneficiary but needs to “up its game” to see change translate to votes in the next general election, said Jonathan Roberts, director of external affairs at the Country Land and Business Association (CLA).

Fears of declining support in traditionally Conservative-leaning rural areas have been heightened by a series of by-election losses, most recently in Selby and Ainsty, the North Yorkshire seat in which Labor toppled a gigantic Tory majority .

Concerns that rural communities have been neglected by Westminster go back much further and are the fault of governments of all colours, argued Roberts.

“It is very difficult for rural people to fully understand who is defending the way of life,” he said. “There hasn’t been a solid, ambitious plan to grow the rural economy, create good jobs, strengthen these communities and allow rural businesses to grow.

A survey by Survation found support for the Conservatives among voters in the 100 most rural constituencies fell 18 points to 41% from the 2019 general election. The party remains narrowly ahead of Labour, whose support is growing from 16 points to 35%. The Liberal Democrats dropped three points to sit at 13%.

The cost of living, lack of growth and the construction of additional housing were among the most pressing issues highlighted by respondents.

Too often, Roberts said, the countryside is seen as “a place people go and visit, rather than a fundamentally important part of our society and our economy.”

The Lib Dems have performed well in by-elections in rural seats such as Tiverton and Honiton, Somerton and Frome and North Shropshire, but Roberts argued that at a general election voters are “less likely to vote in sign of protest and to look more seriously at who is likely to form the next government”.

The CLA, which represents 28,000 rural businesses across England and Wales, fears the divide between town and country is widening. If closed, the productivity gap in the rural economy could boost economic output in England alone by £43billion, the group says.

A 28-page strategy to ‘unleash rural opportunities’ was released by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in June.

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