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Rural Voters Feel Labour Doesn’t "Get" Them, Says Shadow Environment Secretary

Steve Reed (Photography by Louise Haywood-Schiefer)

3 min read

Rural voters feel the Labour Party does not "get" them, shadow environment, food and rural affairs secretary Steve Reed has said in an interview with The House magazine.

Reed, the Labour MP for Croydon North since 2012, was moved from the shadow cabinet justice brief in September last year and put in charge of rural affairs instead. Part of his job now is to restore support for Labour among voters in the countryside.

“There's a definite perception that Labour doesn't get rural voters,” Reed told The House. “That is reflected in the fact that we only won two rural seats at the last general election. So that is certainly how rural voters feel.

“I think in part that's because Labour had allowed itself to become viewed as being too much of an urban party, and people living in the countryside felt that an urban party didn't fully understand their way of life.

“Labour has to correct that. We've been working very, very hard to engage with rural voters, but also to start treating the countryside with respect and treating rural communities with respect.”

Reed offered harsh criticisms of his party’s performance in the last general election. “Labour did badly everywhere in 2019. It was our worst election result for 85 years. We did badly in urban areas, suburban areas, and rural areas. We lost everywhere to everyone, to be frank.”

But he suggested Labour’s track record under former prime minister Tony Blair showed rural areas are winnable for the party. “In '97 and 2001, we had a majority of rural seats, but at the last general election in 2019 we only won two,” he said.

“We want to make sure that the Labour Party, if we get into government, can represent and speak for the whole country. And that means winning seats in the countryside that we haven't won for a long time. But we have won them in the past, so we know it's possible.”

Research by Survation for the Country and Land Business Association earlier this month found that support for the Conservatives in the 100 most rural constituencies in England had fallen by 25 per cent compared to the 2019 general election, while the Labour Party's had increased by 17 per cent.

Conservative MPs recently expressed concern to PoliticsHome that a proposed merger of two of the country's four mobile networks could result in rural areas waiting longer for 4G coverage and a further decline in support for the Tories among rural voters.

In the interview with The House, Reed also defended the use of hard-hitting campaigning tactics, such as the attack adverts used by Labour last year that claimed Rishi Sunak did not think child sex abusers should be jailed. The party was accused of “gutter politics” at the time.

“If you look at every single election, for my adult life, the Tories punch hard, and they've won the last four general elections in a row. Labour needs to win the next election, and we need to pin the Tory record of failure on the Tories. Otherwise, they will be hitting us and we won't be hitting back,” the shadow cabinet member said.

“I think it's very important that Labour makes its points, its case, clearly and robustly. And that means holding the Tories to account for what they're doing wrong, and also highlighting what Labour would do differently.

“If we don't do that as sharply as the Conservatives will do it to us, we will lose the argument. It's just, sadly, the nature of modern campaigning.”

Read the full interview in The House magazine on Monday 26 February.

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