Illustration by Clara Nicoll

Farming life: I feel politically homeless and don't know who will get my vote

None of the major parties are offering us farmers what we need 
November 1, 2023

Since 2016, any post that I’ve made on social media about the hardship of modern farming has typically been met with the response: “Well, you farmers voted for Brexit so that’s what you get.” My “autoresponse” is that farmers voted in line with their demographic: farmers are, on average, older than the general population, and older voters were more likely to vote Leave. The average age of a farmer in the UK is 59, compared with around 40 for the UK as a whole.

In 2016 I was in my mid-30s and voted, like many my age, to Remain. My vote was less about political ideology and more about an inherent passion for unity. But that passion has left me feeling politically homeless of late. In the post-Trump era, name-calling, point-scoring and bickering has replaced debate, reason and compromise—the extremes have torn the centre ground apart.

Whether it’s a Labour frontbencher describing Conservatives as “homophobic, racist, misogynistic… scum”, the daily political name-calling of “Captain Hindsight” or “Blancmange Prime Minister”, or a poll in 2019 indicating that “48 per cent of Conservative voters say that they feel some disgust towards Labour voters”, I’m turned off by divisive derision deflecting from discussion of important issues—you know, the things that actually matter.

Farmers, in general, have for a long time found their home in the Conservative party. But this parliament has been the very definition of Shakespearean tragedy, characterised by disaster and, for British farmers, disrespect. Consider Thérèse Coffey’s rambunctious “let them eat turnips” performance at the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) conference earlier this year, when she was, quite rightly, booed after displaying a staggering lack of interest in UK agriculture; or the seemingly unscrutinised trade deals with Australia and New Zealand undercutting local UK produce. Then there’s Jacob Rees-Mogg—who let me remind you represents a rural Somerset seat—recently issuing another body-blow at this year’s Conservative conference, saying: “I want hormone-injected beef from Australia”. All this and much more leaves UK farmers—who produce food under high environmental and animal welfare standards, including a nationwide ban on hormone injections since 1989—feeling less understood than ever before.

As for Labour, I welcome the fact Keir Starmer has been the first Labour leader in over a decade to speak at the NFU conference, and the first ever to write in Country Life. But with a lack of clarity on what the party’s policy will be on seasonal labour, it is hard to feel the love.

The Liberal Democrats have been making noises of late, with Ed Davey looking more at home in the Instagram-friendly, Barbour-clad promotional photoshoots than Sunak or Starmer. The yellow rosettes have recruited former NFU deputy president Stuart Roberts as a forceful advocate for food, farming and rural life. As possible “kingmakers” in a future parliament, they could punch above their weight, but for now their influence is confined to local politics. 

The Greens, who in many other countries partner well with farmers, seem to be keen to interfere from suburbia, with their “Food and Agriculture Policy”, which includes a long list of principles and commitments peppered with words such as “restrict”, “reduce”, “control” and “regulate”. As a farmer and environmentalist, I’m disappointed that this party in particular offers little for me.

And lastly, with the SNP constantly shouting about another referendum, the less said here the better. Nigel Farage, despite his penchant for real ale and wax jackets, is another nonstarter. 

Which leaves me—and many others, judging by farmers’ WhatsApp groups, social media and feedback from meetings—politically homeless, and a little weary. I invite all council and parliamentary candidates to the farm and have had conversations with party players from across the spectrum, but still I’m not sure where to put my “X”. 

British farmers hold the keys to the UK’s net-zero aspirations, are at the steering wheel in delivery of clean air and water targets, and steward around  71 per cent of the UK land area which is vital to the mission to improve -biodiversity. All these elements are rated as extremely important to UK voters and one would think that politicians would be fighting to bring us on board. Voters care about farming and the countryside, and following a recent appearance on BBC Countryfile, I know that viewers do too. I feel the love, just not from our politicians.