How the elec­tion could help the coun­try­side

Country Life Every Week - - Letters To The Editor - Fol­low @agromenes on Twit­ter

BY call­ing a Gen­eral Elec­tion, Theresa May has seized the agenda and placed her­self firmly in charge. Up to now, she’s been widely char­ac­terised as a safe pair of hands. With even her de­trac­tors ad­mit­ting there’s no cred­i­ble al­ter­na­tive, this has kept the show on the road, but it’s no ba­sis for in­ter­na­tional lead­er­ship.

When the Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions re­ally get go­ing, Mrs May will face three key lead­ers, all newly elected: the Pres­i­dent of France, the Chan­cel­lor of Ger­many and the Prime Min­is­ter of the Nether­lands. Fresh from their suc­cess­ful cam­paigns, they would be ne­go­ti­at­ing with a Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter for whom no­body voted—not even the Con­ser­va­tive Party.

Mrs May is un­doubt­edly her party’s choice, but un­con­firmed by any elec­toral process, sim­ply by ac­cla­ma­tion on the with­drawal of An­drea Lead­som. She could so eas­ily be por­trayed by other lead­ers as the ‘ac­ci­den­tal Prime Min­is­ter’, whose poli­cies were untested and un­tried by the Bri­tish peo­ple, cat­a­pulted into of­fice by a ref­er­en­dum whose re­sult she op­posed.

Now, Mrs May has shown her met­tle. The fail­ure of com­men­ta­tors and po­lit­i­cal pun­dits to guess her in­ten­tion, the com­plete ab­sence of leaks and her clear ex­pla­na­tion of why she changed her mind en­sured al­most uni­ver­sal sup­port for the de­ci­sion. Even so, it’s not with­out its dan­gers. Elec­tions are tricky things, even when the polls are so much in your favour. A week is, in­deed, a long time in politics and nearly two months an eter­nity, but the prize is sig­nif­i­cant.

By call­ing an elec­tion, she has taken con­trol of the agenda and made it her agenda. In that sense, the elec­tion sets Mrs May free—it will be her man­i­festo, her cam­paign and, if she wins a size­able ma­jor­ity, her Par­lia­ment. That not only im­proves her abil­ity to ne­go­ti­ate the best Brexit re­sult, but gives her a much bet­ter chance of de­liv­er­ing the deal she makes with­out un­due push-back from the more gung-ho of her col­leagues. The fact that she will not be up against an in­flex­i­ble elec­tion timetable also gives her el­bow-room to agree the tran­si­tional pe­riod that, in­creas­ingly, seems nec­es­sary.

All this means that there is no way in which cam­paign­ing will move far from Brexit. At the best of times, coun­try peo­ple have a prob­lem in get­ting po­lit­i­cal par­ties to con­cern them­selves with ru­ral is­sues; it will be well nigh im­pos­si­ble in this elec­tion. That makes it even more im­por­tant that we en­sure that Brexit rhetoric doesn’t move away from promis­ing con­tin­ued sup­port for farm­ing and the en­vi­ron­ment. Both ma­jor par­ties have plenty of peo­ple who are gag­ging to re­dis­tribute the £3 bil­lion cur­rently spent on CAP pay­ments to their favourite causes, from tax cuts to the NHS.

In the heat of the cam­paign, com­mit­ments can eas­ily be made that could un­der­mine our agri­cul­ture and place our farm­ers at the mercy of sub­sidised for­eign im­ports. We need to press for a con­tin­u­a­tion of the present sys­tem for as long as pos­si­ble and proper tran­si­tional ar­range­ments there­after so that we have time to ad­just to the new world out­side the EU.

This means that the elec­tion could be a real bonus for the ru­ral com­mu­nity. No party will want the di­ver­sion­ary un­pop­u­lar­ity that propos­ing dra­matic agri­cul­tural changes could en­gen­der. There will, there­fore, be a pre­mium in keep­ing the fu­ture of farm sup­port off the agenda. The NFU and CLA need to make com­mon cause so that Mrs May moves into de­fault mode, promis­ing no change as far ahead as pos­si­ble. There’s no bet­ter out­come on of­fer, so we had bet­ter make sure this com­mit­ment is in the bag.

‘By call­ing an elec­tion, she has taken con­trol of the agenda and made it her agenda ’

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