The surprise election result has changed the face of rural politics in Westminster. The NFU was the first organisation to hold a reception for new MPs at the Houses of Parliament. NFU Head of Parliamentary Affairs, Matt Ware, explains how his team is dealing with unexpected continuity while representing members’ interests.
If you had asked me to bet on the result of the 2015 General Election , I would never have dared come up with the current scenario. None of us expected such continuity. We agonised and pondered for hours over the various scenarios of working with a minority Labour or Conservative government. How would Supply and Confidence agreements work? What challenges would we be facing if a rainbow coalition came to power?
Above all we were concerned about the number of MPs, from all parties, that we worked closely with that had marginal seats and, through no fault of their own, were predicted to be voted out. In short, it was an intense period of uncertainty.
Roll forward a week or so and apart from losing many good rural Lib Dem MPs, we have seen the vast majority of rural Labour, Plaid Cymru , SNP and Conservative MP’s returned to Parliament. This means we have largely the same Government and Shadow teams in Defra. Obviously the new government needs to be held to account and arguably we now also have a stronger opposition, with Labour joined by the rural focussed Liberal Democrats (who were previously gagged in coalition) along with an enlarged rural based SNP and Plaid Cymru.
Planning for post-election was a nightmare due to the uncertainty around the predicted result. We decided to hold a cross industry event on the Monday after the election to seek a united stance to work with whoever was in power. None of us predicted that there would be a majority government in place with the Secretary of State and Minister announced by then! As such we were able to have a more focussed and productive event with colleagues from other farm unions, industry, representative bodies and young farmers.
Similarly, planning a reception for the new Parliament was always going to be problematic given the predicted election impasse and prolonged negotiations. For example, in Belgium it took over a year to form a coalition government!
However by following the lobbying adage of “Getting in early”, with a sprinkling of blind faith , some hope and plenty of planning, we booked a lunchtime reception on the first day of the new parliament on May 18. It paid off . We held the first reception of the new parliament and over 60 new MPs attended as a result. This was a great opportunity to meet incoming ministers, foster new relationships and introduce them to the NFU officeholder team , HQ expert advisers and the NFU Westminster team.
So after a manic few months of election work , 18 months of planning and preparation and a mass concerted lobby in the regions with 2,907 candidates contacted, candidates in 100% of rural seats met (over 500 candidates in all) , we are now in a combined state of shock and relief at the outcome of a majority government and continuity of MPs from most parties. This gives us a fulfilling and firm foundation upon which to continue our work representing the interests of farmers and growers across England and Wales.
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