Once again, the NFU has secured a prime spot at both the 2023 Labour and Conservative party conferences. We have also hosted an evening reception at the Liberal Democrats party conference.
What are party conferences?
Every year, UK political parties hold their annual conferences. Thousands of people including politicians, party members and stakeholders such as thinktanks, media outlets and charities attend.
For rural and urban voters alike, food policy will be crucial at the next election.
Given the inflationary pressures weighing on families and farmers up and down the country, we will be asking how both parties will ensure British farming businesses can continue to deliver high-quality, affordable, and climate-friendly food for the nation whilst also protecting and caring for our environment.
Putting the issues direct to MPs
The NFU once again have a front row position in the Exhibition Hall at both the Labour and Conservative party conferences. Our engaging stand brings to life all our diverse agri-sectors, featuring a glasshouse and milking parlour along with grassland, field margins and trees.
This year we’re asking political delegates to pledge their support for farming by signing an egg and we’re providing cheese tastings complete with a themed tea towel to top off their visit.
The stand provides an opportunity for MPs, Peers, prospective parliamentary candidates and councillors to meet officeholders, directors and the External Affairs team to learn more about farming’s current challenges. We are also sharing our asks ahead of the ever-nearing General Election in 2024, as well as educating delegates more generally about the importance of British farming.
NFU President Minette Batters said: “It’s more important than ever for political parties to back British food and farming.
“The nation’s food security has rarely been more prominent than in the past few years, and with the challenges we’ve faced it’s clear that we need to reassess how we value food and farming. Let’s not forget, this is a sector which forms the backbone of our rural communities, our much-loved countryside and our food and drink industry, which is worth more than £100 billion to the national economy and employs four million people.
“Party conferences are a chance for the NFU to showcase all that British farming delivers, but also for MPs, Peers, councillors and party members to show their support for a sector which gives so much to the nation.
“What we do is important to every single person who eats food. With a general election fast approaching, all parties need to carefully consider the long-term future of farming and how they will help boost homegrown food production. Because British food cannot fail.”
“Our work at the party conferences offers a prime opportunity to land important messages highlighting the issues facing the rural economy and its voters, and to secure valuable commitments,” said NFU Head of External Affairs Olivia Phoenix.
The Conservative Party conference took place from 1 October – 4 October 2023 in Manchester. On the first day we welcomed the Defra Secretary of State Thérèse Coffey and Northern Ireland Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris to stand along with a number of MPs and the Prime Minister’s wife Akshata Murty.
On the second day at the NFU's fringe event, over 150 people were in attendance as NFU President Minette Batters stressed the need for the government to present a coherent and tangible strategy for the future of British farming. The message to the Conservative Party was crystal clear: food cannot fail.
Liberal Democrat Party conference
Over 110 people attended the NFU Farming Reception at this year’s Liberal Democrat Party Conference, bringing together MPs, councillors, prospective parliamentary candidates and party members to discuss the challenges and opportunities for British food and farming businesses.
Speaking at our reception, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey MP said that ultimately, farming is about producing food, and we can do that alongside caring for the environment. Tim Farron MP, the party's Defra Spokesperson, pledged that his party would put an extra £1bn into the Defra budget.
NFU Vice President David Exwood also attended the conference’s flagship ‘Business Day’ which featured policy presentations and roundtable discussions that will filter into the party’s manifesto writing process.
At this year’s Labour Party conference, which took place 8 October – 11 October, more than 1000 delegates pledged to back British farming at the NFU’s stand. On Sunday we welcomed shadow cabinet visitors to stand, including Shadow Defra Secretary of State Steve Reed and Shadow Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology Peter Kyle.
Members of the shadow cabinet continued to visit throughout the rest of the conference, including Shadow Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero Ed Miliband, Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Liz Kendall.
First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford and Shadow Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Daniel Zeichner also visited the stand.
NFU Deputy President Tom Bradshaw discussed the Labour Party’s long-term plan for British agriculture with Shadow Defra Secretary of State Steve Reed at the NFU’s fringe event.
Officeholders carrying the torch
Over the course of party conference season, NFU officeholders will be busy not only engaging with visitors to the NFU stand but also participating in fringe events hosted by other organisations – carrying the torch for British agriculture and ensuring the voice of NFU members is heard loud and clear.