Labour makes pitch for rural votes with event in Northumberland

Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment and Rural Affairs, Steve Reed visits Wheelbirks Farm
-Credit: (Image: Newcastle Chronicle)

Labour has made a pitch for the rural vote in a North East constituency that has voted Conservative for almost a century.

Shadow Environment Secretary Steve Reed visited Wheelbirks Farm near Stocksfield - part of the Hexham constituency - to meet local farmers and outline Labour’s plan for the agricultural sector.

The visit came amid a turbulent time for farmers, with recent poor weather and low prices from supermarkets contributing to some of the lowest confidence levels from farmers since records began. Farming leaders have called for politicians to outline policies on environmental schemes, fairer supply chains and the establishment of core production standards.

On his visit, Mr Reed heard how Wheelbirks - a dairy farm in the Richardson family since 1925, which has become known in recent years for its award-winning ice cream - has reduced food production in recent years because of changes in the food sector that have made previous operations less economically viable.

The visit came as a poll of rural constituencies around the UK put Labour slightly ahead of the Conservatives, a big switch from the 2019 election. The poll for the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit think tank put Labour with 35% of the vote in selected rural constituencies, with the Tories having fallen from 50% in 2019 to 30%.

The survey found support for new onshore wind farms and solar farms in some rural areas, but also that both main party leaders need to show more respect for people living in rural communities.

Mr Reed said: “Farmers are really suffering under this Conservative Government, they need change as so many other people do. We’re listening to what farmers have got to say about the difficulties they face and how a Labour Government could make things better for them and support great businesses like this one to survive generations into the future.

“We’re offering a new deal for farmers. The single biggest cost that is really crippling farmers is rising energy prices so we’re going to set up a company called GB Energy that will harness the power of wind, wave, solar and nuclear to take back control of our energy, produce energy and cut prices for farmers and other businesses.

“The Conservatives also promised British producers they could continue to sell food into the European Union after Brexit; in fact, they’ve erected massive trade barriers so we’re going to seek to renegotiate the veterinary deal with the European Union so that we can tear down those barriers and get British food exports flowing across the borders again and get that money back into the pockets of British food producers.

“The Conservatives have undermined food production across the UK. For Labour, food security is national security.”

Mr Reed added that Labour was seeking to show that it had changed since the 2019 General Election and win back previously long-held seats in the North East. He said the party was even targeting the Hexham seat, which has voted consistently for the Conservatives since October 1924, through candidate Joe Morris.