NFU24: A nation in tune with farmers?

21 February 2024

Joe Twyman from Deltapoll speaking at NFU Conference

Photograph: Joe Twyman, Deltapoll

Results from a new poll unveiled at this year’s NFU Conference show overwhelming support from the public for British farmers and growers.

Anyone who wants to be Prime Minister must properly value the ‘hearts and minds’ polling power of British food.

So said NFU Conference keynote speaker Joe Twyman, co-founder of the public opinion consultancy Deltapoll – and he had the data to back it up.

The former head of political at YouGov shared new research insights into the food and farming policies that will influence the parties’ prospects, both amongst the general public and from the farm-heavy top 100 constituencies for NFU membership. That offered “very good news for the NFU” with the take-home message how in tune the wider population was with farm-heavy areas.

“It’s clear… that farming is important to everyone in this country,” Mr Twyman said.

He added: “Food as an issue connects with voters in their hearts and in their heads, in a way that so many policies don’t manage. British food, food produced in this country rather than imported from overseas. And going into the next election, anyone who wishes to be Prime Minster or agriculture minister will have to keep that in mind.”

Brexit, the pandemic and the situation in Ukraine had focused public attention on food security and food standards in a way people didn’t think about 10 years ago, Mr Twyman said.

“Other industries don’t have that kind of emotional connection,” he added.

A changing countryside?

Less good news was on offer for the Conservatives.

The survey of more than 4,000 people showed potential for Conservative support in heartland farming constituencies to plummet from 58% at the 2019 to election to a projected 32% this year.

Labour was on track to top the rural ballot with 36% of the vote, up from 20% in 2019, with the Lib Dems holding relatively steady at 14% and a surge in voting intentions for ‘other’ parties, up from 6% in 2019 to 18%, driven by support for Reform UK.

Rishi Sunak’s approval was at -37 in the overall public survey and -36 in farming constituencies and approval for Keir Starmer was a lukewarm -2 amongst the public and -8 in farm-heavy areas.

Mr Twyman wryly noted that “vacillating around net zero” was a reasonable performance for a Labour leader in the historically Conservative-favouring countryside.

A country in tune with the NFU?

The research demonstrated big fillips for NFU lobbying priorities.

Some 81% of those surveyed overall, and 88% of those in farming-heavy constituencies said being able to buy British food was ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ important.

Even against a cost of living crisis, 76% of the public and 75% of those in farming constituencies said government spending on farming should be matched, ‘increased a little’ or ‘increased a lot’, while more than nine out of ten of the general public (94%) said that support for farmers was ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ important (96% farming constituencies).

It’s clear that farming is important to everyone in this country.”

Co-founder and director of Deltapoll, Joe Twyman

“Getting 94% of the British public to agree on anything is very difficult and unusual,” Mr Twyman said, adding that “only 90% of British public believe men and women should be paid equally”.

Elsewhere, schemes that help farmers to protect the environment while ensuring sustainable food production were backed by 80% of the general public and 81% in farming areas and 76% and 77% respectively endorsed sourcing at least half of the food for schools, prisons and hospitals from British farms.

Some 70% of the public and 76% of those in farming constituencies supported managed access to the countryside that balanced recreation and food production needs.

A new food security target was a vote winner for 69% of the public and 72% in farming areas, and there was similar backing for increases to rural policing budgets (68% all public, 74% farming constituencies) and banning imports produced to lower standards than required here (63% all public, 75% farming constituencies).

On the other hand, the idea of a meat tax was supported by just 14% of GB adults.

Food connects people

NFU President Minette Batters said: “This new research clearly shows two key things; first that food is something that connects with people, both in the head and the heart, and second that farming is important to everyone in this country, whether they live in rural areas or not.

“It comes as no surprise that the British public want whoever is in power to demonstrate how they plan to boost sustainable home-grown food production and care for the environment.

“Support for British food and farming will be a deciding factor in the general election and all political parties should take note.”

Meet the speakers from this session

Joe Twyman

Co-founder and Director, Deltapoll

One of Britain’s best known political pollsters, Joe Twyman is Co-Founder and Director of the global public opinion consultancy Deltapoll.

He previously worked as Head of Political and Social Research at YouGov and was a director at the founding of the company back in 2000.

Terry Jones

NFU Director General

Terry Jones re-joined the NFU as its Director General in April 2016. For five years previously he had been running food industry trade associations. In 2011 he joined the Food & Drink Federation (FDF) as its Director of Communications, where he sought to bring to life how food manufacturers could deliver increased rates of sustainable growth.

Leaving FDF at the end of 2014, he took up the post of DG at the Provision Trade Federation (PTF) looking after the interests of businesses involved in the UK bacon and dairy trade.

Before working at FDF and PTF Terry worked for the NFU from 2002-2011 in a variety of roles including Head of Government Affairs, Head of Food Chain and Director of Communications.

Terry lives in Cheshire with his wife Emma and their two daughters.

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