Tories losing loyalty in England’s 'rural wall' with 16% Labour surge

The survey reveals mounting frustration with economic policy and cost-of-living ‘premium’ affecting rural communities
The survey reveals mounting frustration with economic policy and cost-of-living ‘premium’ affecting rural communities

Swathes of the Conservatives 'rural wall' are defecting to Labour after years of economic neglect, according to new polling figures.

Polling of more than 1,000 people in England’s 100 most rural constituencies reveals a fall of 18% in Tory support and a Labour surge of 16%.

This is putting the Conservatives (41%) and Labour (36%) almost neck-and-neck for the next election, the report, by the Country Land & Business Association (CLA) and Survation, says.

The survey reveals mounting frustration with economic policy and cost-of-living ‘premium’ affecting rural communities.

Around 12 million voters live in rural areas, representing a significant proportion of the UK economy.

The Conservatives currently hold 96 of the 100 most rural seats in England, but applying this trend to the 2019 results would see them lose 20 seats in 2024.

This includes the likes of Northeast Somerset and Sherwood - large rural constituencies - which would fall to Labour.

And areas like South-West Surrey, which has been Conservative since 1983, would fall to the Liberal Democrats.

Despite the historic bond between the Tories and rural England, only 36% of those polled agreed the Conservatives "understand and respect rural communities and the rural way of life", with Labour close behind at 31%.

The majority of respondents (69%) agreed the government isn’t doing enough to tackle the cost-of-living crisis in rural areas.

And a third (33%) said the cost-of-living pressures are affecting the countryside more than urban areas.

Of the political parties most trusted to stimulate economic growth in rural areas, between the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, the largest group of respondents (34%) said ‘don’t know’.

The finding suggests that gains could be won by any party that offers an ambitious growth plan for the countryside.

Mark Tufnell, president of the CLA, warned that any party that wanted to "treat the countryside as a museum will be punished.”

“In recent years, we’ve seen how quickly communities which feel left behind can rewrite the electoral map. In 2024, it could be the countryside’s turn," he said.

“There is a simple truth – no political party has at present shown that it understands, let alone shares, the aspirations of rural communities."

Mr Tufnell warned that the 'outdated' planning regime was holding rural businesses back, as well as the lack of affordable housing which was "driving families out".

Meanwhile, the outdated infrastructure was limiting entrepreneurs’ potential, all of which was having "a devastating impact".

“Any party which is willing to develop a robust and ambitious plan for the rural economy will secure significant support," he added.

The polling also shows a widespread lack of trust in local government, with 55% saying they do not trust local government to facilitate economic growth.

Almost half (47%) stated that local authorities "do not understand the needs of people living in the countryside."

The report also uncovers a strong appetite for planning and housing reform, with 44% saying they would support more homes being built in their communities.

And just under half (44%) agreed that reforming the planning system would help stimulate growth in rural economies.

The polling comes after the APPG for Rural Powerhouse published a report revealing how government neglect has created a cost-of-living “rural premium”.

MPs found a shortage of affordable housing, inadequate power infrastructure, and poor connectivity has left rural areas spending 20% more on items like fuel, despite wages being 7.5% lower than urban areas.