Matt Ware is the NFU's head of government and parliamentary affairs, based in our Westminster office.
What are the big election issues? Health, crime, immigration? If you look through the history books you’ll find that agriculture, food and the environment has always been up there.
In fact, go back 102 years and you’ll find the record of Britain’s first recognised professional parliamentary lobbyist – one Charles Weller Kent of the NFU.
Back then he had a manifesto of 15 key policy issues. Turn the clock forwards to today and we’ve got a team of professional lobbyists, identifying 100 policy areas which have been whittled down to 46 key asks in our 2015 manifesto.
The 2015 General Election is set to be the closest in modern history with a 30-40% turnover of MPs. Just as the political parties have been gearing up for more than a year, so has the NFU. We need the next government to listen to us and take action.
Our focus is, of course, on food production. We need a government that champions British farming. Whoever is at the helm of Defra after May 7th needs to engage and listen to farmers and growers. They need to shape their policy to allow British agriculture to be as productive as it can be when planning for the future.
Over the next 30 days or so the media will be in a frenzy of conjecture, interviews and speculation; all supported by multi-coloured graphics and charts! All candidates will be declared by April 9th and then the main political parties will publish their manifestos. This is when my colleagues and I at the NFU will analyse the manifestos and highlight areas where agriculture can contribute or is a priority.
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But we’ve already been busy doing much of the spade work. The NFU manifesto was first launched in September 2014 and was presented to MPs, conference delegates and political party members at the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat party conferences at very well attended NFU fringe events. My team and my colleagues have met with Special Advisers, sitting MPs, Ministers and prospective candidates over the last 18 months with the aim of getting our policy suggestions adopted.
At the heart of this is our top ten policy asks and top five policies by commodity. Our NFU County Advisers are arranging meetings and hustings with all MPs and candidates of the major parties (in rural and semi-rural seats, as well as some very urban areas with few farmers in the greenbelt), utilising our unique database of 3,500 candidates. Our members are inviting election hopefuls on to their farms, to show them the real life issues first hand and to ask them what they will do to back British farming.
So what can you do to play your part in this effort? Here are my top three suggestions:
- Contact your Prospective Parliamentary Candidates and invite them on farm or to an NFU hustings event. This is your opportunity to explain the issues that matter.
- Sign up and add your name to the ‘Great British Food Gets My Vote‘ campaign.
- Speak to local candidates from all political parties as a coalition is likely.
I’ll be sharing my insight into the world of elections and lobbying right through to polling day and beyond. Follow @NFUPolitical on Twitter and check back on the NFUOnline staff blogs channel for more from me and the work of the Government and Parliamentary Affairs team in Westminster.