Food does not deserve to be side-lined during the General Election. And I don’t mean bacon butties.
Relative to the economy, health spending or education, the topic of food production does not usually command national headlines during a general election campaign. That does not necessarily reflect the local-level debate, however, particularly in rural seats where farming and the associated industries form a major part of the economy.
The received wisdom is that Labour generally struggles to make significant inroads into the rural vote. These seats are more often dominated by the Conservatives with the exception of some Conservative/Lib Dem battles that are mostly confined to the South West. Therefore, as a Labour strategist why would you put much effort into winning the vote here.
The answer is three fold:
- It has not always been like this.
If we look at the seats that Labour lost to the Conservatives in 2010 there are some strong rural areas included, for example Amber Valley (held by Labour since 1997), Calder Valley (held by labour since 1997), Derbyshire South (held by Labour since 1997), Dorset South (held by Labour since 2001) and South Ribble (held by Labour since 1997) to name but a few. What is clear is Tony Blair’s Labour not only appealed to middle England, it appealed to rural England too.
- Labour is facing a possible oblivion in Scotland
A recent ICM poll for the Guardian showed that Labour is facing a “wipe out” in Scotland. Of course, there are a number of other huge factors at play here but a large number of these seats are where agriculture is a huge creator of jobs and opportunity.
- Food is not just a rural issue
Of course, food is an issue that affects us all. The policy area spans from the cost of living through to nutrition, environmental sustainability, global food security and Europe. This year the EFRA Select committee, led by the highly engaged Anne McIntosh, covered some very meaty (excuse the pun) issues. Its inquiries have tackled major headline issues including the horsemeat scandal and the Elliot review through to cloned animals. Indeed, food policy is not just the domain of DERFA but touches the work of Health, International Development and Education.
In Feeding the Nation, Labour was right to focus a specific area of the Policy Review on food and it underlined the party’s commitment to getting the policy right. It should not be seen as secondary issue or one that does not affect the entire country. Whether it is brought up the television debates or registers in focus groups remains to be seen but the future of our planet does, quite literally, depend on us getting it right.
This is the first of a three part series. In the next two parts we will look at the impact of the rise of the minority parties and the role of the food sector in broader business policy.