A surge in support for Reform UK is set to cost the Tories up to 35 seats at the next election and hand Labour a majority, analysis for The Telegraph reveals.
Reform, the Right-wing party led by Richard Tice, has seen its share of the vote more than double, according to recent polls, and it is poised to inflict mortal damage on Rishi Sunak.
Experts warned that anger over the Conservatives’ failure to crack down on immigration is driving their 2019 voters towards Reform.
Reform is polling at around 10 per cent nationally, compared with a typical score of five per cent a year ago, and far above the two per cent secured by the Brexit Party in 2019.
The situation would become even worse for Mr Sunak if Nigel Farage returned to politics following his stint on I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!, given his name recognition with the public.
Pollsters said Mr Farage was popular with many of the Red Wall voters the Tories attracted in 2019 and was seen as a “conviction politician”, unlike Mr Sunak or Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader.
During a focus group held by pollsters More in Common last month in Walsall, in the West Midlands, voters praised Mr Farage for “speaking sense” and “saying what we all think” on immigration.
More in Common analysis based on voting intentions shows that the Conservatives are on course to secure 35 fewer seats than if Reform did not exist. If it did not exist, the Tories would win 265 constituencies across England and Wales, almost certainly depriving Labour of a majority and creating a hung parliament.
But the picture changes drastically if Reform wins nine per cent of the vote, as projected by More in Common’s most recent polling. Then the Conservatives would be reduced to 230 seats, with Sir Keir securing a comfortable lead.
Luke Tryl, director of More in Common, said Red Wall voters who delivered Boris Johnson’s landslide made up most of Reform’s new support.
He said their reasons for switching included a perception that the Tories had “broken promises” on immigration and that the UK was a “light touch”.
“There’s a feeling that the Conservative Party have talked a good game but haven’t done anything about it, and that frustration is what you’re now seeing driving some Tory 2019 voters into the arms of Reform,” he said.
Mr Tice described the past three weeks, during which a reshuffle has taken place amid Conservative infighting over record migration numbers, as a “tipping point”.
He said 1,200 new members had signed up to Reform in the five days following the appointment of Lord Cameron as Foreign Secretary, which he said was “received appallingly” by Tory voters. “What’s happening here is people are realising that the Conservative Party do not own the philosophy of conservatism”, he added.
Mr Tice has said his party will contest every seat and there is no chance that it will stand candidates down to help Tory MPs on the Right who are under threat from Labour.
“They’re very welcome to pick up the phone to me and talk about defecting – that’s the only deal to be done,” he said. “Seismic political change is about to happen in the UK.”
He added that his party had achieved its recent success without Mr Farage, its founder, who is unaware of recent political events because he is in the Australian jungle.
“When he finds out everything that’s been going on he’ll be as angry or more angry than anybody, and there’s no one who’s more trusted on the subject of immigration,” said Mr Tice. “I’m sure that will weigh very heavily in his thinking. As a cumulative force, I think it’s a huge, huge opportunity to completely reshape the landscape.”
Pollsters said that if Mr Farage were to campaign for Reform then “all bets are off” and the party could replicate the 14 per cent vote share achieved by the UK Independence Party (Ukip) in 2015.
More in Common’s analysis shows that, were that to happen, the Conservatives would be reduced to just 200 seats, with Labour winning a huge majority.
Adam McDonnell, the director of political and social research at YouGov, said the Tories were unlikely to be able to win back voters who planned to back Reform.
“It is going to be a big problem for the Conservatives, based on what Reform are polling at the moment. It would be very damaging,” he said. “That may bring some seats that weren’t in play, even with Labour’s big lead, into play because Reform are going to take votes away from the Conservatives.”
One such example is North East Somerset, held by Jacob Rees-Mogg, where Ukip came third behind Labour in 2015 with 8.6 per cent of the vote.
Some experts have argued that Reform’s support is being overstated, pointing to recent by-elections in which the party has underperformed its projected national vote share, but all agree that polling shows an uptick in support for the Right-wing party.
Scarlett Maguire, a director at pollster JL Partners, said the Tories were “increasingly losing their voters to Reform”, adding: “You’re now looking at a situation where, if they’re standing in every Conservative seat, they wouldn’t need to get very many votes to cause the Conservatives some quite serious damage.”
Mr Farage is seen by many voters as a “conviction politician”, she said, adding: “If Farage comes back then all bets are off really, or rather people would probably start betting on the Conservatives doing much, much worse.
“A lot of the electorate have already given up on the Government over the small boats stuff, which is why they’re going to either Reform or don’t know in the polls.”