Richard Wright looks at the parties with regards to Dairy

Where each party sits in relation to dairy farming in the UK

Conservatives

The days when the Conservative party was the natural home for farmers, and when Tory agriculture ministers came with sound farming credentials, are now long gone. However the party would still see itself as broadly pro-farmer. Dairy policy has been about ensuring structures in Europe that will allow the efficient to prosper and grow when quotas end. It is against any new forms of supply management and wants exports to drive growth in the UK and EU. It was sympathetic to the European Commission’s view that a higher intervention price would not solve low prices caused by a global surplus and the Russian import ban. The Conservatives have said they are committed to tackling the badger link to TB. The party was also instrumental in driving a code of practice for the dairy industry – but then bizarrely fired the architect, Jim Paice, in a reshuffle despite his popularity with farmers.

UKIP

As a party UKIP is fighting hard to show it has policies beyond securing a referendum on EU membership, where it would obviously battle to secure an exit vote. By definition it is anti-CAP, but its approach is a broad brush one, built around opposition to many of the current aspects of EU farm policy. It wants to scrap most of the red tape surrounding the CAP, replacing that with a simple single farm payment structure, linked to compliance with the basic standards of the entry level countryside stewardship programme. It is opposed to most environmental measures that affect farmers, including NVZs and IPCC controls for intensive pig and poultry units. It is also opposed to EID for livestock, claiming that in a non-EU contents this would not be necessary. UKIP would cap aid at £120,000 per farm. It has no specific policies for the dairy sector, but believes an exit from the CAP would make all parts of British farming more competitive.

Labour

The Labour Party probably accepts it is has never been a natural home for farmer votes, although history has shown that more by circumstances than planning farming has often fared well under Labour governments. It however sees more votes in those who support green causes and the environment, often with an urban view of agriculture. It has said it would scrap the badger cull without any further negotiations with farmers or farm lobby organisations. It is pro-EU and pro the CAP, and in its comments says it would set up various panels to address the problems in agriculture. The background would be a commitment to maintaining family farms via CAP payments. The dairy industry would fit within its general approach of a focus on family businesses and the landscape. But there is the sense of a limited focus on the industry, because there are few direct farming votes to court. That said the difference between Labour and the Tories on agriculture is a lot less distinct than it once was.


Liberal Democrats

As a party strong in key rural constituencies, particularly in the South West, now facing a potentially tough election the Lib Dems are keen to secure farming votes. In this drive they have not been helped by the virtual wipe out of their political representation in the European parliament, which has blunted their ability to deliver on CAP issues. As party it is pro-Europe, supportive of the environment and a greener CAP. It is also supportive of family farms and small businesses that will improve the rural economy. Its focus, designed to appeal to urban voters and counter potential opposition from the Green party, is focussed on encouraging sustainable but environmentally friendly farming methods. It is opposed to the badger cull and is largely dependent on individual MPs battling to secure the farming vote in their constituencies. It supported the dairy code of practice as a policy negotiated during its time in the coalition, but at Defra its focus has been on environmental more than agricultural issues.

SNP

Understandably, while it sees itself as a possible king maker in the event of a hung parliament, the focus of the SNP is on Scottish solutions for Scottish problems. In that context there is a limit on what it can do for dairy farmers, since much of the processing industry is controlled from outside Scotland. It is pro-European as a party and opposed to any moves that might see it forced to leave the EU as the result of an English dominated referendum vote. It wants a more direct role in Brussels for its ministers and wants the allocation of UK CAP funds recalculated to Scotland’s benefit. The SNP supports moves to reduce red tape associated with the CAP, but as a regional government with decisions on EU relations taken at Westminster it, like the Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies, has limited scope to force change. It is however a strong backer of Scottish agriculture, and has a considerable rural power base that will serve it well in the May election.

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