Election 2015 England

Election 2015: Hertfordshire farm workers share their views

With the general election campaign in full swing, politicians of all persuasions are travelling to towns and cities across England, hoping to boost their chances at the ballot box.

While they do that, BBC News is visiting offices, factories and other workplaces to gauge the mood of those who matter most - the voters.

The bright yellow blanket of rapeseed fields will be a familiar sight to anyone who has travelled around the East of England, a region renowned for its rich agricultural offering.

On land nestled on the border of Essex and Hertfordshire, a young farmer has been turning the seeds into cold pressed oil since 2012.

Oscar Harding, 25, employs a handful of full-time workers on his 500-acre farm on the outskirts of Sawbridgeworth.

Image caption Rapeseed fields are a familiar sight across East Anglia
Image caption Oscar Harding has been running the farm and selling cold pressed rapeseed oil since 2012

When it comes to the election, Mr Harding's main priorities are what would be best for his business and the economy of the local area.

"The idea of using direct democracy - I think that's the term - and having local referendums, I think that's a good idea.

"I'd also be keen to see bespoke growth plans for local areas, so there's not a blanket policy on different places and which areas get help for small businesses.

"That would be great, because it's something I could actually get involved in instead of a national type thing."

Image caption The seeds are planted, grown, harvested, pressed, filtered and then bottled

Mr Harding said he was concerned about the strength of representation for British farmers at European Union level.

A new three-crop system introduced under EU rules during last year's planting season was not implemented as well as it could have been, he said.

"The way it came about is insane. We were in the process of planting in August, September time and it still wasn't tied up about what we were and were not allowed to plant.

"You're in the middle of doing it and you still don't know what's going on, and you can bet if you got it wrong, you'd have a penalty to pay for it.

"There's other European countries, perhaps our closest neighbours, who are quite good at getting what they want.

"I don't necessarily want to be in or out of Europe, but whilst we are in, then perhaps a bit more should be done to stand up for the UK farmers," Mr Harding said.

Image caption Oscar Harding's Duchess Oil is sold by stockists across Essex, Hertfordshire and London

There are estimated to be more than 238,000 EU-born people living in the East of England.

A census project at the Migration Observatory at Oxford University said the region had seen a 70% increase in the migrant population over the last 10 years and had the third largest migrant population of the ten regions of England and Wales.

Although Mr Harding does not currently employ any migrant workers, he said he had "first hand experience" of working alongside people from other countries on the farm.

"A good friend of mine employs tractor drivers from abroad and they're fantastic," he said. "That side of things is great, that people are here to help. I think the difference is that they come over and they really want to get stuck in straightaway."

Image caption Business mentor Graham Price is cynical about parties' financial claims

His views are shared by his business mentor, Graham Price, who said he believed immigration was not a major problem but "shouldn't be overlooked".

"Immigration is a problem for every country throughout the world, and if you're a successful country, you're going to attract people to it," he said.

However Mr Price, 63, a retired banker, is sceptical about financial promises made in the run-up to the election.

"I'm always doubtful of people's explanations of the financial support available," he said.

"Oh, we'll find eight billion pounds to do that - what are you going to sell, Cornwall?

"It's the way they get you to focus on the benefits while not letting you understand the costs. I'm not comfortable with politics at all. I would much rather there was one sensible body looking after everybody and balancing things."

Image caption The 500-acre farm where the oil is made employs a handful of full-time staff
Image caption Mechanic Edward Steele said he is not planning to vote in the general election

Elsewhere on the farm, mechanic Edward Steele, 32, is not convinced any political party will do the job they say they will.

"They all say the same thing and no-one ever does anything about it. I'm not interested in voting," he said.

"Immigration does bother me though. It bothers me a lot, the fact they're letting immigrants come in here, taking all our English jobs.

"It's a joke. There's probably tens of thousands of Englishmen on the streets because of all this going on."

Image caption Contractor Matthew Thompson said he felt immigration was an issue and was voting for UKIP

His views are shared by his colleague, 32-year-old contractor Matthew Thompson, who is planning on giving his vote to UKIP.

"I'll probably vote for Farage's team. Just for the fact I agree with some of his policies, about the NHS and that. I don't think he's a racist.

"Some people who come here from other countries undercut our wages by quite a substantial amount. It makes me wonder if it's even worth us going to work."

But fellow contractor Daniel Smith, 28, is a supporter of employing workers who have come from other countries.

"I think a lot of immigrants will actually do the jobs that a lot of young people here don't want to do. The jobs need to be done so why not let them do it? That's the way I look at it. If the young people don't want to do it, who else will?"

Image caption Daniel Smith, who also works as a contractor, said he was supportive of migrant workers

But he is still not convinced by politicians' efforts to appeal to voters.

"I'm not really bothered about anything the politicians have been saying. I've never voted anyway. I don't see much point because they all just break their promises," he said.

On the other hand, Mr Harding and Mr Price have already made up their minds about who to vote for.

"I'll probably vote Liberal Democrat," said Mr Price."They've been trying to establish a joint political career over the last few years and have been sadly under considered. I don't think we need to have extremists - we don't need to be left, we don't need to be right. We need to be balanced."

Image caption Oscar Harding is planning on voting for the Conservatives on 7 May

His mentee, however, is planning on voting Conservative.

"They're pushing the points about local referendums and bespoke growth plans, and they're two points I'm definitely behind," Mr Harding said.

"They're the personal issues, then general stuff about the economy, immigration, the NHS, things that get chucked about all the time.

"It seems like it'll be the Tories and someone. But there isn't anything that could happen before the election to drastically change my mind."

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