Mark Harper and Jacob Rees-Mogg among West Country Tories that face general election ousting

From left to right: Mark Harper, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Mel Stride and Liam Fox. Credit: PA

Mark Harper, Mel Stride and Jacob Rees-Mogg are among senior West Country Tories that risk being ousted at the next general election if Labour wins over rural voters.

The Conservative Party could lose half of England's most rural 100 seats when voters go to the polls, according to a new poll by the Country Land Business Association (CLA).

It could see Transport Secretary, Mark Harper, lose his Forest of Dean constituency and Department for Work and Pensions Secretary, Mel Stride, wiped out in Central Devon.

Other senior Conservatives at risk include Jacob Rees Mogg, who will fight for the new seat of North East Somerset and Hanham, and former Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, who has been North Somerset's MP since 1992.

Rishi Sunak's party currently holds 96 out of England's most rural 100 seats, but faces losing to both Labour and the Liberal Democrats - the latter hoping for a resurgence in its former West Country heartlands.

The CLA's Survation poll questioned more than 1,000 people, with the Tories suffering a 25-point collapse in support and Labour up 17 points on the 2019 election result.

The last time the CLA and Survation polled rural England, in April 2023, Labour were making gains but fell short of overtaking the Conservatives. Monday's poll shows the Tories’ vote has plummeted by a further 7%, with most of this vote going to the Reform party.

"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," said CLA President, Victoria Vyvyan.

Rishi Sunak visited a dental surgery in Newquay, Cornwall, last week. Credit: PA

More respondents believe Labour understands and respects rural communities and the rural way of life than the Conservatives (28% versus 25%).

But the poll also revealed a large chunk of the electorate is still up for grabs – when asked which of the political parties is most trusted to stimulate economic growth, the largest group of respondents said “don’t know” (35%).

"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," Vyvyan added.

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

"For the good of our rural communities and the nation as a whole, now is the time for the main parties to make it clear that they will back the countryside."

The CLA represents nearly 27,000 farmers, landowners and rural businesses across England and Wales.

To coincide with the poll's findings, it has published six mission documents for political parties - covering sustainable farming, affordable housing, rural crime and economic growth in rural areas.

Among the ‘missions’ is a call for an increased agricultural budget of at least £4 billion a year to invest in a world-class agriculture policy and help farmers deliver meaningful improvements to the environment.

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