Matt Ware is the NFU's head of government and parliamentary affairs, based in our Westminster office.
With the tightest General Election in modern political history, the rural vote is arguably the big battle ground. Get out beyond the big urban areas and you’ll find two-way marginal seats abound.
To be precise there are 37 rural marginal seats in England alone where the incumbent party has less than a 10% majority (5% point swing).
More from Matt...
2 APR - Farming must be a priority for election hopefuls - 'With the election of the first MP for UKIP, the run-up to the General Election in May promises to deliver some interesting times ahead.'
10 Oct: Political lobbying at the heart of agriculture - 'With the election of the first MP for UKIP, the run-up to the General Election in May promises to deliver some interesting times ahead.'
28 Sept: Support the growth of our British farming industry - Matt reports from our Conservative Party Conference fringe event.
But the real rural voting question is what will happen to the Liberal Democrat vote in its rural South West, Welsh, Cumbrian, North East and Scottish strongholds?
While the Lib Dem vote tends to hold better in sitting seats than the national polling trends, there are a large number of marginal rural Lib Dem seats. Where the Lib Dem vote collapses as third contender in a seat, where will those votes go, as that may well swing a seat?
Equally, what impact will UKIP have on the Conservative and Labour marginal seats in rural areas? Who will UKIP attract votes from and how will this affect the outcome in each individual seat?
In Scotland the SNP are polling consistently high and certain to overthrow not only Labour but also the Lib Dems in many seats.
Given this unprecedented complexity, it is not wise to make predictions. What I can say is this is likely to be one of the most tactical and individual elections ever seen, with seat by seat dynamics rather than national trends. As such, this represents a real opportunity for effective local lobbying on your local candidates, who I can assure you will be in “listening mode” and receptive to policy suggestions in the NFU manifesto.
So are any ‘farming seats’ particularly vulnerable?
Yes. Most notably Defra Ministers George Eustice, (second most marginal rural English seat with a 66 majority) and his fellow Defra Minister Dan Rogerson who has asmall 6.35% majority.
Farming MPs on the rural marginal list include, in third place with a 214 majority, Nottinghamshire farmer Mark Spencer, who is the ex-National Federation of Young Farmers chairman. Yorkshire farmer Julian Sturdy is 27th on the list; both these MP’s have been very strong advocates for the industry in the last five years.
Think British food should be a major election issue?
We have already seen the departure of ex Defra Ministers Jim Paice and David Heath at the end of March as parliament was dissolved. Both MP’s have served their constituencies and the sector admirably over many years, whilst Jim Paice is also a farmer in his own right and was National YFC chairman in his youth.
With all this in mind now is the time for NFU members to be speaking to election hopefuls stray bracket (in their area. Nothing quite beats getting a politician onto farm to get results. Just look what happened with George Osborne (Link to Michael Parker blog).
Here’s my top three tips on how you can get involved:
- 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.
The NFU will be sharing our insights 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.