BY BEN EAGLE
With the Tories sky high in the polls and Labour in disarray, it could be said that the overall result of this election is easier to predict than any other in living memory. Despite living in an age in which the unexpected often becomes reality, as all the pundits now say, it seems highly unlikely that the Conservatives won’t stretch their majority, probably by dozens of seats. Some suggest that the Tories could end up with a majority of 100 seats. However, the devil will be in the detail and my eyes will certainly be on the Lib Dems as they take advantage of their strong anti-Brexit line, on the Greens as they attempt to take seats such as Manchester Gorton and Bristol West and on my own constituency of Clacton which has been notably chameleon-like in recent years having been represented by a Tory, a UKIPer and an independent (even though this has been the same man – Douglas Carswell). One thing is for sure and that is that Brexit is the key topic of conversation in this election campaign, at least it is south of the border.
When it comes to farming, the election is an opportunity to ensure that all prospective MPs acknowledge the uncertainties currently faced by the industry. After all, it is they who will be shaping agriculture for a generation afterwards as the new British Agricultural Policy is shaped. A satisfactory trade deal and continued (and practical) access to migrant labour will be crucial for farmers, and lobby groups such as the NFU will certainly be hot on the heels of candidates making sure that they hear this message in the next few weeks.
The issue with elections is that they are packed full of soundbites. They should be an opportunity to engage the country in a debate about the kind of society in which we want to live, as well as hone in on the detail of the problems we face, that are either entrenched or up and coming. However, this is rarely the case. Farmers will be looking out for clues regarding a vision for Brexit in terms of trade and movement of labour, but also as to what a future British Agriculture Policy might look like. For decades Britain has been a shaper of European Agricultural policy. Today however, we face the prospect of controlling and implementing our very own policy. On paper this sounds great. However, it still has to be implemented well. The next Parliament will potentially not only shape how self-sufficient we are as a nation but also the state of British wildlife in terms of incentivising farmland conservation.
I spend a good deal of my life thinking about food and farming but I accept that I am in a minority. To be frank, it is very unlikely that food, farming and the environment will feature prominently in this election (or for any election for that matter, sadly). It simply isn’t in the forefront of the minds of most people, least of all our politicians. Food might keep us alive, but strangely enough it doesn’t win many votes. Despite this, it is vitally important that we elect politicians who care about the future of food, farming and conservation in this country.
Brexit is often discussed in rather vague terms and yet the negotiation itself will be one of the most complex political acts ever attempted. The detail of the negotiations will impact on people’s lives, especially those of farmers who currently receive a significant proportion of their income from subsidies derived from the Common Agricultural Policy. It is little wonder that the farming press is currently full of pieces inferring concern that farming will be left behind in both the election and the negotiation. Brexit is an opportunity (and I say that as someone who voted remain last year) for farming, but only if the vision of progress-minded, conservation-concerned, not-afraid-to-invest-in-the-future farmers is reflected in the minds of those sitting at Westminster after June 8th.
Ben Eagle is a guest writer for Country Squire Magazine. He generally writes about food, farming, the environment and sustainability. Elsewhere, he has written for The Guardian, Farmland Magazine and the Sustainable Food Trust. His website www.thinkingcountry.com was highly commended in this year’s UK Blog Awards. You can follow him on twitter @benjy_eagle or join the thinkingcountry facebook page.