Tories ‘could lose more than half of England’s 100 most rural seats’

Rishi Sunak
The poll is a setback for Rishi Sunak, pictured at a farm in his Richmond, North Yorkshire, constituency

The Conservatives could lose more than half of the 100 most rural seats in England at the election, according to a poll that has dealt another blow to Rishi Sunak.

The Survation survey showed that Labour holds a lead in the polls in the seats, which have traditionally formed Conservative heartlands.

It put Sir Keir Starmer’s party on 37 per cent of the vote, with the Conservatives trailing on 34 per cent.

Labour support in the seats is up 17 points compared to the 2019 general election, while Tory backing has collapsed, falling by 25 points.

While the Conservatives currently hold 96 of the 100 seats, an analysis of the poll suggested that if the numbers were repeated at the election they may win just 43.

Labour would gain 51, with the Liberal Democrats – who are targeting dozens of rural constituencies as part of an election strategy aimed at winning support in the Blue Wall – also making a handful of gains.

Potential high-profile casualties could include Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor, and Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, the former business secretary. Therese Coffey, a former environment secretary, is also projected to lose her Suffolk Coastal seat.

Jeremy Hunt is among potential high-profile casualties at the election
Jeremy Hunt is among potential high-profile casualties at the election

The poll, conducted between Jan 23-30 on behalf of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), was published at the start of what could be a challenging week for Mr Sunak.

His Rwanda Bill returns to the House of Lords for further scrutiny, GDP statistics will be published on Thursday, which could show the UK is in recession, and the week will finish with crunch by-elections in Wellingborough and Kingswood.

Elsewhere in the survey, the largest group of respondents (35 per cent) replied “don’t know” when asked which of the political parties they trusted most to grow the economy.

More voters said they believed Labour understood and respected rural communities and their way of life (28 per cent) more than the Conservatives (25 per cent).

Victoria Vyvyan, the president of the CLA, said: “People living in the countryside are ambitious. They want to start businesses, create jobs and grow the economy, but for decades, governments of all colours have treated the countryside as a museum, failing to generate the conditions necessary for growth.

“This poll makes it clear that rural voters up and down the country feel politically homeless and disconnected from central government – but their votes are still up for grabs.

“Whichever party produces a robust and ambitious plan for growth in the rural economy will undoubtedly secure support.”

The CLA has published a six-point plan urging the Conservatives and Labour to do more to unlock the potential of the rural economy, including calls for an increased agricultural budget of at least £4 billion a year to invest in a “world-class agriculture policy [to] help farmers deliver meaningful improvements to the environment”.