Keir Starmer becomes first Labour leader to address NFU since 2008

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer during a visit to National Farmers' Union president Minette Batters' farm in Wiltshire

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer during a visit to National Farmers' Union president Minette Batters' farm in Wiltshire - Credit: PA

Keir Starmer is to become the first Labour leader to address the National Farmers' Union (NFU) since Gordon Brown in 2008.

Starmer will tell farmers that Labour’s history owes as much to the countryside as it does to the city as he promises to bring the party closer to rural communities.

The Labour leader will use a speech to NFU to urge the government to back British farming by encouraging people to buy more British food, addressing problems with the new farm payments scheme and investing in agricultural skills.

He will seek to highlight Labour’s support for high food and farming standards, which the NFU has fought to maintain after Brexit, and argue that 10 years of Conservative government has weakened rural communities.

And he will say that Labour’s proposed British Recovery Bond to boost investment in the aftermath of the pandemic will tackle the “permanent insecurity” faced by businesses and landowners in flood-hit communities.

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At the online conference the Labour leader will call on the government to look at whether more of the £2.4 billion public spending on catering could be spent with British producers, address concerns the post-Brexit farm funding scheme will not keep farmers afloat, and to create new apprenticeships in the sector.

But he will also acknowledge the “perceived distance” between Labour and the countryside, and pledge not to ignore it any longer, with a review of Labour’s rural policy led by shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard.

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Sir Keir will point to Labour’s history – the fact that the first leader Keir Hardie was the son of a farm worker, that the Attlee government introduced the Agricultural Wages Board and passed key legislation in the form of the 1947 Agriculture Act – to show that farming matters to the party.

And he will even point to his own history, telling farmers “it’s a little-known fact that my first holiday job, at the age of 14, was on one of the local farms near where I lived”.

Sir Keir is expected to say: “No party can claim to represent the country if we don’t represent the countryside.

“Farming matters to Labour, to the British people and to the families and communities that make farming possible.”

He will tell farmers that the British Recovery Fund to provide billions of pounds for local jobs, communities and infrastructure could help rural people hit by flooding.

He will add that families he had visited in South Yorkshire last year and who were rebuilding after devastating floods in 2019 had come to accept that it could happen every few years.

He will say: “We have to change this, and to see flooding not as an emergency to respond to year after year but as a crisis to prevent.

“That can only happen if you have a government willing to invest in the long-term, and to work with businesses, farmers, landowners and local communities to build the infrastructure necessary to provide security and certainty.

“This kind of investment, long-term, green, targeted at areas starved of government funding for a decade, and designed to build security, resilience and prosperity for the future, is exactly what I have in mind when I say that recovery bonds could be used to build the infrastructure Britain will need in the decades to come.”

A Conservative Party spokeswoman responded: “It was Keir Starmer’s political games as shadow Brexit secretary that kept us tied to the Common Agricultural Policy that has held our farming industry back for so long.

“The Conservatives are using our independence to deliver a better, fairer farming system in England, which will be tailored to the interests of farmers.”

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