Rural opinion: Fighting for rural agenda as General Election looms

CLA President Henry Robinson and Environment Secretary Liz Truss launching the CLA’s Pledge for a Th

CLA President Henry Robinson and Environment Secretary Liz Truss launching the CLAs Pledge for a Thriving Countryside. - Credit: Archant

With the General Election just 53 days away and looking too close to call, every seat and every vote will be important to all the parties, writes CLA East regional director Ben Underwood.

Labour's General Election candidate Jack Abbott.

Labour's General Election candidate Jack Abbott. - Credit: Archant

The rural economies of Suffolk and Essex are set to play a key role in deciding the country’s future destiny and the CLA wants everyone who lives and works in the counties’ rural areas to make the most of their votes.

That’s why we are offering farmers and landowners the opportunity to quiz representatives from the main political parties on the key rural issues that mean most to them ahead of an election that promises to be like no other in recent memory.

We are hosting free-to-attend live debates at Cressing Temple, Braintree, on Monday, April 20, and at Wingfield Barns, near Diss, on Tuesday, April 21 (both from 4pm until 6pm), with the focus firmly on the countryside and rural economy.

These events will offer you a great opportunity to engage with your local parliamentary candidates and ensure they hear not just your voice, but the collective voice of our rural communities loud and clear.

Ben Underwood, eastern region director of the Country Land and Business Association.

Ben Underwood, eastern region director of the Country Land and Business Association. - Credit: Su Anderson

This type of individual contact carries tremendous weight with politicians and, most importantly, reminds them there are votes at stake. They should not underestimate the positive impact the economic, environmental and social contributions from a vibrant countryside can have on the country as a whole.

On hand to answer questions in Diss will be the Labour Party candidate for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, Jack Abbott, and Conservative, Liberal Democrat, and UKIP representatives. While in Essex, parliamentary candidates for Braintree James Cleverly (Conservative), Malcolm Fincken (Labour), and Richard Bingely (UKIP) have confirmed their attendance.

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Each of the candidates will make a short introductory speech before the debate follows a similar format to BBC Question Time, with questions for the panel from the audience. Following the conclusion of the debate, the candidates will join delegates for tea and coffee.

At the events, we will also be getting the candidates to commit to supporting rural businesses by signing the CLA Pledge for a Thriving Countryside.

Through our Pledge, candidates will be highlighting the positive action they will take on behalf of rural businesses if they are elected to Parliament in May. It will also encourage them to recognise their responsibility to support those who live and work in the countryside.

Getting the next Government to deliver a proactive approach to the countryside is the core of the CLA’s manifesto for the General Election, Unlock the Countryside’s Potential.

It sets out key recommendations that will enable the political candidates in the eastern region and beyond to achieve a better understanding of the countryside and enable those elected to effect real change.

We offer a range of recommendations across the areas of property and ownership; landscape and farming; environment and natural resources; and business and technology so the country can unlock the social, economic and environmental benefits that rural areas can offer society as a whole.

Each candidate that joins our debates in Suffolk and Essex will be given a copy of the manifesto, and I will be at each event to brief them on the often-complex issues specific to our area.

To book your place at the Braintree hustings visit, or for the Diss event: Alternatively, call the CLA East Regional Office on 01638 590429.