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Election Reflections from NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker

5th July 2024

Labour's campaign was based on change and by goodness did Britain vote for change on 4th July 2024. With Labour winning 412 seats, the Lib Dems 71, Reform four and the Greens four, the vast majority of these gains drew from previous Conservative held seats. So now we face change and we can be sure that change will come. We have to be and indeed can be optimistic about our future because Britain is a democracy and in essence it’s the people of this country that are behind this change and it’s the people at large who will now move forward with a mood of optimism. Everyone in Britain should want Britain to succeed, within of course a successful and more stable and fair international community, and it’s a mark of decency that our outgoing Prime Minister and Chancellor have both publicly stated that they want to see the incoming Government succeed – because it is in all of our interests. 

The NSA is a membership association for sheep farmers and we have already forged links with many in the Labour Party and the Lib Dems - and of course our connections with many of the Conservative MPs will remain. But before I say more I would like to pay tribute to many in the outgoing Government who have worked hard in extremely challenging times, and with a high level of commitment. People like Rishi Sunak, George Eustice, Michael Gove, and Mark Spencer to name a few. They have listened and acted within the bounds of their ability, beliefs, and knowledge and have tried to reconcile many competing objectives and its right to give credit and thanks. 

Now we move forward. But what might we expect, and how will this affect the UK and our devolved administrations? Over time we might expect that our public services will get more investment and hopefully get better. We can expect a focus on improvements to core services such as health, education, energy, transport and infrastructure. Probably defence too. These are all areas of high priority, national and strategic importance and I am convinced that this is where we also need to get farming, food and the environment. That has to be one of our main tasks in the immediate future. Whilst it sounds great it also requires a lot of planning, reconciliation between many competing interests and recognition of the many related challenges of feeding people; the protection of our natural resources; tackling and dealing with climate change; and nature. Despite all the work since our exit from the EU we are still lacking a clear vision and direction with targets and goals on all these things and how so many other aspects interrelate – things like trade policy and how food and the environment link with health and well being agendas.

The easy bit might be agreeing what change we would like. Few would say we don’t want a better health service, or more self sufficiency in food, and better diets. The challenge will be the economy, the ability to pay for everything, meeting expectations, and of course the fact that all these things take time and Governments sometimes don’t have the longevity to see things through.

For us in the world of farming, and sheep farming in particular, we need to continue to translate what we do to dovetail into new Government interests and programmes. Like recognition that a livestock-based pastoral landscape can be great for the environment, for the climate, and for people, whilst also producing nutritious food. That tackling climate change and reducing energy use and costs relates to insulating homes could relate to sustainable and renewable wool insulation that doesn’t pollute the planet. That family farms and small businesses add significantly to local economies, support heritage and create culture. That it is surely crazy to build our agricultural markets on export and trade and continue with a cheap food policy here. That it achieves nothing to do things right here and offshore our footprints. That it is often more profitable to export food than consume our own. If Labour is to meet its pledges around public procurement in food then these are the things that need to be reconciled and guided by policy.   

But maybe most of all we need continuity and stability through any impending change. We need to understand more about the impacts of some aspects of recent schemes, usually designed with good intent but often having consequences that haven’t been thought through. We have to make progress with combating climate change and protecting natural resources but should stop and think more about schemes like Landscape Recovery, Carbon Offsetting, and Biodiversity Net Gain, and their effect on food production, farming families, and rural communities. We should ensure that existing businesses and farmers have opportunities for environmental objectives to be delivered through them not instead of them, and for the incoming Government to continue with the current Future Farming and ELMS schemes, fine-tuning rather than changing the band-width.  

There is urgency but we also have to take utmost care and know where we are heading.