The Conservatives have taken rural votes for granted – now our farmers and communities are suffering
In the most difficult of times, our rural communities have shown inspiring British resilience. We should celebrate them and the very best of British farming, fisheries and produce throughout our rich supply chains.
But the past two years have laid bare that our rural and coastal communities have not just been forgotten, but betrayed by a government without a clear plan for Britain beyond Brexit. While Boris Johnson may have “got Brexit done,” he had no plan to make Brexit work for people here in the UK.
His government pocketed support in our rural communities, then turned its back on them when they needed it most. Voters in North Shropshire put it best; beyond all the rule breaking, corruption and sleaze, they were sick of being taken for granted.
On top of failing to prepare for and deal effectively with food sector labour shortages, this government has overseen red tape and border delays, with food rotting in fields and stuck in queues, and farmers having to send healthy pigs for wasteful culling. Instead of stepping up to help, the Conservatives seem intent on disadvantaging farmers with the forthcoming changes to the subsidy, meaning working farms will be worse off.
Instead of using the opportunity of Britain’s first post-Brexit trade deal to create jobs in every sector, drive our economic recovery, and raise standards around the world, they are doing the opposite. As farmers watch trade with the European Union drop across many areas, ministers leap to deals which further undermine British producers.
A third of community hospitals have lost beds, vital bus links have been severed, essential shops closed
Labour’s plan for a Green New Deal will protect and restore our natural heritage, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs in the process. Our pledge to Make, Buy and Sell more in Britain will give businesses of all shapes and sizes the chance to grow and thrive. We will address the serious and growing problems with farm payments, supporting family farms vulnerable to the shock of Brexit and look at using much more of the £2.4bn annual public sector catering budget to buy British produce. We will invest in skills and value those skilled jobs which are so critical to our rural economies.
Labour will repair the fragile foundations of local public services. Rural crime is on the rise thanks to Conservative cuts to police budgets. A third of community hospitals have lost beds, vital bus links have been severed, essential shops closed. For many, the local pub or post office is merely a memory. So too is the hope of the next generation being able to stay in the places where they were born and raised, and build a life there.
A stark example of communities feeling left out in the cold was in the aftermath of Storm Arwen. As ministers were distracted defending Downing Street Christmas parties, thousands in Durham and beyond couldn’t even turn on their Christmas lights – more importantly they were unable to keep themselves warm, cook food, store vital medicines or even charge their phones.
Thousands of them were cut off for more than two weeks – and not even a visit from the Environment Secretary or Prime Minister, who treated it as both a peripheral and narrow energy supply issue, not one of a community cut off and growing increasingly angry.
Labour’s promise to our rural communities is that we will turn up and listen, as I did during Storm Arwen. I want to spend as much of my time as possible getting out and about across the country, listening to what the rural and coastal communities we must regain the trust of need, in their own words.
Boris Johnson’s jokes and broken promises have worn thin. Labour wants to build a different kind of country; one that can be the best place to grow up and grow old in, regardless of your postcode.
It’s time for serious leadership to deliver the recovery our country deserves, in our cities, towns and beyond.
Jim McMahon is the Labour MP for Oldham West and Royton and shadow environment, food and rural affairs secretary.
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