Rural voters more likely to back Labour than Tories

Rural voters are more likely to back Labour than the Tories at the next election following a huge swing to the Left in traditionally true blue territory, new polling suggests.

The Conservatives have been warned “a Portillo moment is possible anywhere” as a newly-released survey put Sir Keir Starmer’s party four points ahead in the countryside.

It comes as Labour has vowed to “park our tanks on the Tories’ fields” in a bid to claw back the rural vote, with Steve Reed, the new shadow environment secretary, leading the charge.

The poll, by Labour Together, found that 34 per cent of people in villages or rural areas would back Sir Keir’s party at the next election, compared to 30 per cent who preferred the Conservatives.

It amounts to a 17-point swing to Labour compared with 2019, based on the respondents’ self-reported voting history.

Countryside ‘at heart of renewal plans’

The party won a majority of rural seats in Parliament in 1997 and 2001, but its support in the countryside had all but collapsed by the last general election.

It has since admitted becoming “too detached” from rural voters over the past two decades, pledging to treat them “with respect” going forward.

A Labour source said: “We plan to park our tanks on the Tories’ fields. For too long rural communities have been overlooked and allowed to slide into decline under the Conservatives.

“Under Keir Starmer’s leadership, Labour now has a respectful attitude towards our rural communities. The countryside is at the heart of our plans for a decade of national renewal.”

Around 5,000 Britons took part in the Labour Together survey, carried out between Oct 27 and Nov 1.

While Labour came out in front in rural areas, the margin was significantly narrower than its 21-point lead across the country as a whole – suggesting it is still relying heavily on the urban vote.

The party also led the Conservatives in the countryside by 12 points on net favourability, a measure of general popularity.

However, both ratings were still in the red, with Labour on minus 10 and the Tories on minus 22.

Drive Tories out of countryside

Mr Reed is pitching for the rural vote with a pledge to crack down on sewage spills and flood risks, as well as crimes blighting the countryside, such as fly-tipping and vandalism.

He has also promised to support farmers by providing cheaper clean energy and backing British food, including by seeking to strike a new veterinary agreement with the EU.

Meanwhile, he has vowed to deliver “the biggest ever transfer of power from Westminster to the British people in all parts of the country”, as Labour wants “rural communities to control their own futures”.

The aim is to drive the Conservatives out of the countryside by appealing to people’s patriotism and nostalgia.

The Croydon North MP outlined the plans in a speech to the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) conference in London last year.

In September, Sir Keir became the first Labour leader to write for Country Life magazine in an attempt to win over traditional Tory heartlands.

He pledged “a new deal for British farming”, which included “ambition” towards developing a bovine tuberculosis vaccine.

Josh Williams, the director of strategy at Labour Together, said: “The established wisdom has long been that the Liberal Democrats compete with the Conservatives in the countryside and Labour does everywhere else.

“This polling shows that Labour is now leading in rural areas, far beyond its traditional heartlands. More Tory seats are now at risk from Labour than at any time in 20 years. A Portillo moment is possible anywhere. No Tory MP should consider their seat safe.”

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