Taking a bite at the General Election

General elections are a fantastic opportunity to advocate for change and build relationships with those that will be holding the seats of power in the UK over the coming years. With significant changes in the makeup of parliament predicted, there has never been a better time to talk to politicians about a better food system.

Participate in our workshop: General Election: getting food on your candidate's agenda | Sustainable Food Places

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has called the General Election for Thursday 4 July – an opportunity for people in every part of the UK to choose their Member of Parliament (MP). They will represent their constituency in the House of Commons for up to five years.

The UK is divided into 650 constituencies, with MPs elected by the first-past-the-post system. Some constituencies may coincide with local authority boundaries but more often they don’t. As a result, upper tier local authority areas often have more than one MP constituencies within them. Place-based organisations may want to consider engaging all of their candidates (and MPs after the election) if they have the capacity to do so.

This is a fantastic opportunity for our Sustainable Food Places network and other groups interested in healthy and sustainable food and farming to ensure their future elected MP(s) champions good food in Parliament and future policy, funding and public debate.

Rules for lobbying and campaigning

Our objective is not to influence the result of elections in favour of one candidate or party over another. Party political impartiality is vital for effective campaigning and is part of the rules governing charities. We are encouraging organisations and individuals to engage all candidates and ensure good food and farming are central to their priorities in years to come, regardless of which political party wins the General Election and which MP ends up representing your constituency.

Campaigning must be undertaken under the constraints of the Lobbying Act. The guiding principle of the rules are to avoid party politics. Good food and farming, for health, fairness and the environment, should be a priority for everyone, regardless of political hue – and we should all feel confident and able to express this to the people seeking to be elected as our representatives.

What MP(s) can do for you and your organisation

MPs have a duty to represent their constituents and there is no better time to engage than in a General Election year. Meeting your MP or prospective parliamentary candidate strengthens their mandate to act and allows you to build a relationship.

Whether your MP is in Government, the Shadow front bench or on the backbenches, MPs have a duty to represent their communities. If they hold office in the elected Government, they are still able to help with problems affecting their constituents through all the usual methods and more.

MPs can write to a Minister on your behalf, ask a parliamentary question and help put your issues on the political map through debates, clarifying how policy should be implemented, or funding allocated, or proposing new legislation. MPs may also be members of select committees, all party parliamentary groups or other interest groups, which gives them more leverage in certain policy areas.

Identify your calls to action

The first step is to identify your priorities. Is it to establish a food partnership in your area? Is it to win funding for local food infrastructure such as a food hub? Or would you like to see more government policy and action on healthy food, household food insecurity or sustainable and climate friendly food systems? Is there one call to action that stands out for you or your organisation? Candidates will be busy meeting constituents during the campaign trail and it’s best to define your priorities and don’t shower them with multiple issues all at once. Your calls will be stronger and more impactful if you can demonstrate you represent many people and organisations and that if the candidate supports this, there would be lots of support for this.

You can use the General Election as an opportunity to galvanise your steering group and wider network of supporters around the issues that are important to you, your food partnership or organisation. Involve your networks and supporters in setting up key questions for candidates, define the top three to five priorities for candidates and/or invite your supporters to go to hustings armed with key questions for candidates.

Identify your local candidates

The official candidate list will be published by 7 June 2024. Good sources of information are the pages of your local political parties, local media or websites such as Who Can I Vote For or Democracy Club (which also tells you of hustings in your area).

Research their interests and use that information to link them to your calls to action. Are they a farmer’s son or daughter? Are they a teacher or health professional? Were they on free school meals growing up? Were they employed in the food and farming industry at any point in their lives?

Write to candidates

Once candidates have been announced, writing to them directly will be most effective. Ask them questions, invite them to support your key calls to action and invite them to meet with you, visit your community group, centre local school or food growing space.

Publish and disseminate their answers to your supporters so their commitments are made public. Do share them with us if you can so we can build a map of support to key food and farming issues. If they become your MP, they will be in the position to represent you in Parliament and help you and your organisation make progress on your call to action.

Write to all main party candidates, not just those you think may win. It’s important to remain politically impartial, and you will be building connections, knowledge and public debate. In addition, even if a certain candidate doesn’t win, they may become interested in your call to action and support you in other ways.

Participate in hustings

Hustings are panel discussions when candidates debate policies and answer questions from the audience. They’re a great way to encourage candidates to make commitments on good food or other issues.

Many candidates publish a list of the hustings they will be participating in on their local websites. Check if environmental organisations such as Friends of the Earth or the local chamber of commerce are organising hustings. You can also invite members of your steering group and your supporters to go to hustings armed with key questions for candidates.

You can email candidates in advance to let them know what questions you will be asking. There will be other opportunities to interact face-to-face with your candidates. Candidates often go knocking door-to-door or stand at transport hubs and other busy spots handing out leaflets and interacting with their constituents.

Use all of these and other opportunities to interact with candidates, be prepared with your key calls to action and key questions and urge candidates to make commitments in the areas that are a priority for you and your organisation.

Invite candidates for a site visit

Is there a food growing space, community kitchen, local school or other community food project that embodies your vision and tells a great story of what you would like to see supported in your community? Visiting and experiencing projects first-hand and communicating with local beneficiaries is a powerful way for candidates to understand the aims of your food partnership or organisation and get one step closer to make commitments. Candidates will be showered with priorities from individuals and organisations in their constituency.

Seeing something first hand is more likely to stand out among their busy schedule, make them understand the importance of food and farming related issues and more likely to remember you and your organisation if they are eventually elected as MPs. If you can turn it into a photo opportunity for local press and social media, all the better!


Don’t forget to exercise your democratic right and vote! The deadline for registering to vote is 18 June 2024, and the day to vote in person at your local polling station is 4 July, 7am to 10pm. The deadline for applying for a postal vote is 5pm on 19 June, but you must already be registered to vote.

Congratulate your newly elected MP and arrange follow-up meetings

Regardless of your political preferences, it’s important to congratulate the elected MP and arrange a follow-up meeting. Hopefully by this stage you will have built a   relationship with the winning candidate, and they will be aware of the importance of your work. If your elected MP has made commitments relating to food and farming in their campaigns, build on this, encourage them to deliver on these promises and explore how you can help them to do so.

The new cohort of MPs will be eager to hit the ground running, so we encourage you to use this time to engage with them, whether that’s through a meeting or a site visit. It’s important to keep the momentum going after the election, as this will be the perfect time to engage with them.

We have recently held a training session on engaging with your MP with our Sustainable Food Places network to prepare you for this stage: Pitch Perfect: get the most out of connecting with your MPs.

Devolved Administrations in the UK Nations

In addition to having representation in the UK Parliament, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland also have their own elected national assemblies or parliaments, and executive bodies. Also known as the ‘devolved administrations’, they have ‘devolved’ powers to legislate and govern on matters that relate to that nation, such as health and social care, education or local government. Other policy areas, such as defence, international trade or immigration, are ‘reserved’ and remain with the UK Parliament, so decisions made in Westminster directly affect all of the four UK Nations.

Most food and farming-related policy areas are devolved. They include agriculture, health and social care and education. Therefore, if you and your organisation is based in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland you may decide to concentrate on calls to action that are UK-wide, such as international trade, or on national issues with local relevance and devolved powers such as school food or a food partnership and plan in every local area.

It’s worth considering that even in those policy areas that are devolved, legislators often need to work with other administrations to make sure the policy or service is designed and delivered successfully. Different administrations can also learn from and be inspired by about what has worked elsewhere. For campaigning organisations, it’s often useful to compare progress across the four UK Nations and call for solutions across all nations so that we create a common playing field and avoid a ‘postcode lottery’ of service provision or action on issues of common concern.

For a full version of the General Election toolkit, including template letter to candidates and template questions visit the Sustain election hub

Participate in our workshop: General Election: getting food on your candidate's agenda | Sustainable Food Places

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