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Reform UK threatens Tories in over 300 seats

All aboard! Credit: Getty

April 5, 2024 - 7:00am

Perhaps the most shocking thing about the latest YouGov MRP polling is how little of a shock it seems. The survey, which maps the voting intention of nearly 20,000 voters onto constituency-level trends, is projecting a worse result for the Conservatives than in 1997. Yet this, which would have seemed absurd five years ago, is now the consensus, with an increasing sense that there is little the party can do to change it.

The scale of the defeat forecast here is huge. The Conservatives would not have a single MP in London. A smattering of prominent Tories would be unseated, from leadership hopeful Penny Mordaunt to old-guard mainstays such as Iain Duncan Smith. The party would be thoroughly evicted from the Red Wall and would hold fewer than 10 seats between the Humber and the Scottish border. Across the South, the Lib Dems would pick off a bunch of quintessentially Tory areas, winning nearly 50 seats and compounding the demise.

The polling also shows the danger Reform UK poses to the Tories. While the insurgent party is still unlikely to win any seats, it is set to come second in 36 of them including a handful of Tory 2019 gains such as Bolsover and Lee Anderson’s Ashfield. More concerning for Conservative planners, however, are the seats that Reform could cost them. Richard Tice is keen to take the fight to the Tories, and the prospect of Nigel Farage’s return lingers, but even on current trends a split in the Right could be hugely beneficial for Labour.

Across the country, there are just over 300 seats where Labour’s projected total is less than the combined predicted share for the Tories and Reform. It is oversimplifying to suggest that all of those could come back to the Conservatives, but there are 20 seats where picking up just half of the Reform votes could grant the Tories victory: the likes of South Basildon, Harlow and Stoke. This could be a face-saving difference between returning to Westminster with a 1997-style result or something more like Labour’s 2010 performance. With a bit of a bounce, it might even nudge towards a hung parliament.

The problem for the Tories is how to achieve it. Policy shifts towards the Right have already failed to move the electoral dial. Tightening immigration rules and pushing through the Rwanda bill have, so far, yielded little. Neither has tax cuts. Overall, the Tory Party has failed to find an answer to the Reform insurgency. It is unclear what rolls of the die they have left, or even if they know how to court these voters.

The other option is a chance for a pact with Reform. The Tories rejected a similar ploy in 2019 but Farage, who was Brexit Party leader at the time, unilaterally decided to stand down candidates in Conservative-held seats. It probably helped Boris Johnson secure victory, but those were very different circumstances. The Conservatives have little to offer now: they will not be in government, so have few policy giveaways to make. Reform’s calculation is different, too. Playing too strongly in 2019 could have handed victory to an anti-Brexit coalition, but now some members of its high command sense the chance to replace the Tory Party.

Overall, pre-election pacts are rare in British politics and there seems little chance of this one. The Conservatives have too many other interests to balance – with votes lost to the Left as damaging to those seeping away on the Right. Reform, for its part, would much rather eat up the Right than soften the blow for the Conservatives. The pattern from the polling looks set to hold. The most realistic alternative is perhaps based on local pacts in seats such as Stafford or Worthing, where Reform is likely to be a distant third but still cost the Conservatives.

There are perhaps six months or more to the election. That time will be filled with frequent talk about what, if anything, the Tories can do. The numbers, however, are now showing a consistent picture: a huge defeat is now the least surprising result.


John Oxley is a corporate strategist and political commentator. His Substack is Joxley Writes.

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John Riordan
John Riordan
3 months ago

I feel very sorry for Rishi Sunak. He is not suited to the leadership job either for a party or the country, but he is clearly a decent and clever man who got no10 just at the point it turned into a poisoned chalice, and now he’s forced to go through an unrelenting slog of an election which he knows he’s going to lose badly.

And the really vicious thing about it is that the reason the electorate is going to give him a hammering isn’t necessarily because of anything he’s done wrong, but is the result of the colossal economic damage done by the pandemic, which wasn’t his fault (though possibly since he was Chancellor during the government’s massive overreaction to the threat, perhaps he deserves at least some blame for it).

R Wright
R Wright
3 months ago
Reply to  John Riordan

Sunak’s policies of spending hundreds of billions of pounds to encourage industrial inaction, test and trace and promote the proliferation of immigrant Deliveroo drivers
with taxpayer’s cash have basically bankrupted the country and caused the highest inflation in decades, and you think he isn’t responsible?

j watson
j watson
3 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

As if not more arguable perhaps is that he/Tories (& the Right more broadly because the Right isn’t asking for this) have falled to then recoup a decent proportion the ÂŁ600b issued during Covid, which inevitably flowed through to the richer and boosted their asset wealth, via wealth taxes. They could have made these one-offs, reflecting how this public money had inevitably ended up boosting asset wealth.
But we all know that would be taking back from their own, including Sunak himself, so wasn’t going to happen.

Jos Haynes
Jos Haynes
3 months ago
Reply to  j watson

Recoup as much as possible, yes, but one can hardly say it all went to the wealthy. There are some prominent examples of that, but actually millions of small and medium sized businesses and crooks took the money. Don’t let your socialist convictions get in the way of analysis.

j watson
j watson
3 months ago
Reply to  Jos Haynes

Yes much fraud too and we should be investing more in chasing that, but the fraud aside if you follow the money it inevitably ended up boosting asset prices and who benefits most from that – those of course with the most assets. So an almost ‘windfall tax’ could have added some correction.
I don’t think this is especially socialist.

Peter B
Peter B
3 months ago
Reply to  John Riordan

Like Theresa May, no one forced him to take the job.
It’s simply not good enough to claim they are victims. They put their hands up and claimed they were the best people for the job. They should have known themselves better. But what is so disappointing is that hundreds of Conservative MPs have repeatedly picked non-leaders to lead them.
Rishi Sunak handed out money like confetti during the pandemic. A collosal amount of fraud went by undetected.
You also forget the “sins of omission” – the things they should have done (indeed promised to do) and failed to deliver.
So no sympathy for any of them.

Pamela Booker
Pamela Booker
3 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

Sunak is still handing out money like confetti. He seems to have no real idea of its value.

Phil Rees
Phil Rees
3 months ago
Reply to  John Riordan

Not “because of anything he’s done wrong”!!?? I can’t believe any intelligent person thinks that. Until very recently he has conspicuously ignored advice on immigration throughout his time as PM despite it obviously being a major concern, and despite making regular promises of action. Either he is very stupid in thinking those promises might come about, or he is simply a liar. Either way there is one (among many) example of something he has done wrong.

Carmel Shortall
Carmel Shortall
3 months ago
Reply to  John Riordan

(WEF stooge) Sunak is neither decent nor clever and I would not feel sorry for him if he was hanging from a lampost Mussolini-style.

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
3 months ago

The Tory party has a majority of centre left MP’s .. Time for the 40 to 60 Tory centre right MP’s to resign and join Reform … this would give the electorate a real choice in GE2024

j watson
j watson
3 months ago

Maybe if the more centre left Tories join a centrist Lab/Lib we can banish to the Golf club margins the Reform types for the foreseeable future and focus on sorting out the mess left behind?
Be careful what you wish for on realignments. The natural centre of gravity in the Country is not out to the Right as much as you might hope.

2 plus 2 equals 4
2 plus 2 equals 4
3 months ago

Because they’ve been in office so long, longer than New Labour, longer than Thatcher, longer than Wilson and Callaghan aggregated, we tend to forget how tenuous the Conservative grip on power has been for much of the last 14 years.

5 years of coalition. 2 years of Cameron’s 10 seat majority from 2015. 2 years of minority government under May. Of course Boris won his thumping majority in 2019, but that was a mile wide and an inch deep in some respects, as with the Red Wall. The failure to realise the promised benefits of Brexit, the various crises of the past 5 years, and the venal incompetence displayed by so many ministers and MPs have thoroughly sand-blasted that fragile coalition away.

In many ways its been an astonishing tightrope walk to last this long, convincing enough voters in the right places to keep the show on the road. But the Covid parties and Truss-onomics were the tipping point. After that too many voters, even their natural supporters, simply made up their minds they needed to be punished next time. Short of Rishi single-handedly inventing a perpetual motion machine while defeating invading space-spiders, there’s nothing they can do except behave with some semblance of professionalism to try to mitigate the impending disaster and have something to rebuild from. And even that seems to be beyond some of them.

Matt M
Matt M
3 months ago

I worked out that if they won a majority and managed to serve for the full parliament, it would be the longest stint by one party since the Duke of Wellington was PM.

2 plus 2 equals 4
2 plus 2 equals 4
3 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

Its a remarkable thought and its certainly possible that without Covid and the chain of events which ensued, Boris could have won a another term. In the normal course of events an 80 seat majority is hard to lose.

AC Harper
AC Harper
3 months ago

I am quite happy for Reform to be a cause of the collapse of the Conservatives – the collapse and (possible) rebirth is badly needed.
I do fear that Reform might increase the number of LibDem (useless) and Green (dangerous) MPs that might squeak through the gap between the two main parties. It might still be worth it in the longer term though.

R Wright
R Wright
3 months ago

Without an asteroid obliterating them off the face of the political map the Tories will never have to face down their failure of ambition. We can only pray the (few) survivors learn how to be actual social conservatives again out in the wilderness. Somehow I doubt it though.

j watson
j watson
3 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

As an aside, resulting from our removal from ESA due to Brexit we now remain entirely reliant on US goodwill to spot the ‘asteroid’ that may be heading Earth’s way! Space technology and presence huge part of the future. And we’ve debilitated ourselves.
Appreciate the asteroid prompt.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
3 months ago
Reply to  j watson

If we miss out, we can always go to Comet for an alternative.

Jos Haynes
Jos Haynes
3 months ago
Reply to  j watson

And what is anyone going to do about a bloody great asteroid heading for the earth? Never certain whether your comments are a joke or pseudo-serious. I can never take ’em seriously, anyway.

j watson
j watson
3 months ago
Reply to  Jos Haynes

Was a bit of both wasn’t it.
There is a v serious point about understanding how much Space is the coming economic and influence ‘battlefield’. One has to grasp quickly how UK will be player, and it’s clear on our own we won’t be.

Gillian Johnstone
Gillian Johnstone
3 months ago
Reply to  j watson

From UK.GOV site – UK’s membership of the European Space Agency (ESA) is not affected by leaving the EU as ESA is not an EU organisation.

j watson
j watson
3 months ago

Yep, appreciate you checking it out. Fair criticism I over simplified.
The more nuanced point is Brexit clearly diminished influence in ESA. We now have 3rd country status in the ESA. And thus for example we lost access to Galileo and cannot really afford our own. One of the biggest European companies in this technological field is Leonardo. They’ve made clear Brexit not helped their investment decisions regarding the UK and this is such a crucial area for 21st Century economic development.
EU knows we have much to offer in this area and thus we remain part of ESA, but with some inevitable diminished influence. This a slow-burn deterioration though for us in a vital field.
Just one other small example – we need access to cost effective rocket launch capability and sites nearer the equator much more cost effective – takes less fuel to get into space and you can lift bigger loads. France and EU has the base in French Guiana. We have small plans for launch bases in Sutherland and Shetland, but won’t find this cost effective for anything major. So we are dependent and will have to pay more. We have to partner and we’ve weakened our own position in such partnerships.

Adoptive Loiner
Adoptive Loiner
3 months ago

Talking of splits on the right, and of Reform costing the Tories seats, assumes both that the conservatives are still a party of the right, and that a good proportion of those Reform voters would vote Tory if Reform stood down. I find this a stretch on both counts.

Just roll the words “750,000 legal migrants a year, net” around in your mind. Do you think your typical Reform voter is going to vote for a party that has allowed that to happen? The Tories can make all the fuss and noise they want about the Rwanda scheme and the 40,000 odd people a year it will affect, but frankly it’s p*ssing in the wind when they allow three-quarters of a million people a year in legally. Net.

And that’s just migration. Law and order. The state of the military. The state of public services. Personal taxes. Free speech. You can just go on and on listing the areas the Tories have screwed up in.

I don’t think Reform will cost the Tories a single seat, I think they’ve lost each and every one themselves.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
3 months ago

Great comment – I actually suspect that if Reform stood down their candidates, then all their potential voters will just stay at home.
Either way, Labour will win a landslide, achieving the lowest number of votes per seat ever recorded for an incoming government.

Matt M
Matt M
3 months ago

Sunak resigns. Kemi installed. The seats of the 63 MPs who are standing down at the GE offered to Reform candidates. A clear platform created: immigration below 100k per annum net, leaving ECHR, fracking, push the net zero targets out by another decade, and a raft of concrete anti woke, anti- “positive discrimination” policies. Remove the whip of objectors within the ranks. K for Nigel.

Ernesto Candelabra
Ernesto Candelabra
3 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

I think every era has a defining leader – just one who makes the political weather. In our time it’s Nigel Farage. We’ll see.

Arise Sir Nigel


j watson
j watson
3 months ago

He’s certainly made it rain.
More seriously undoubtedly one of the most influential last 15yrs, but in terms of real ‘change delivered’ – pretty much zilch. Even he says his primary project, Brexit, been an ‘utter failure’.
So destructive capacities – v strong. Constructive capacities entirely unproven.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
3 months ago
Reply to  j watson

Disingenuous nonsense – Farage says we have yet not taken anywhere near enough advantage of the new-found freedoms he almost single-handedly has obtained for the U.K. population.
Yours is just another desperate Remainer death-rattle 


j watson
j watson
3 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

8 years and counting IB
You’ll note though when he says this he keeps it v general and unspecific. You’ll also note that at the moment he’s not stepping forward to try and win election where he’d then have to walk the walk as well as talk the talk.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
3 months ago
Reply to  j watson

More disingenuous nonsense.

j watson
j watson
3 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

I agree, that’s exactly what he is. He pretends he knows best but clearly knows he’d make a mess of it so happy to remain a Celeb and ker-ching.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
3 months ago

Whilst Farage is popular due to his stances on the EU and immigration, I don’t believe he would be as successful if he was the leader of the Tories as his reheated Thatcherism wouldn’t be electorally popular.
He’s a great campaigner when he’s dealing with a single issue but I’m not sure he’d be as effective when he has to balance a multitude of them as is required to lead a major party.
I still believe Kemi Badenoch is the Tories best bet to attempt a rebuild after the election, even if she does seem a bit punchy

Phil Rees
Phil Rees
3 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

You can’t leave ECHR in 6 months. It is a massive task involving the Good Friday agreement, a recalcitrant blob and others. I fervently support leaving but its the kind of thing begun at the beginning of a parliament, not the butt end and I think Sunak shows he’s a liar when he suggests otherwise as I’m certain he knows that perfectly well.

j watson
j watson
3 months ago

Said it before – the Right needs to take time away to properly debate and square some of it’s inherent contradictions – neoliberalism/free markets vs Conservatism (and what Conservatism really means). Reform hasn’t squared these at all. It’s just had much less of the sunlight thus far which when/if that illumination happens will show they haven’t grappled openly and honestly either with these contradictions.
An additional question though – would any alliance on the Right prompt similar on the Left/Centre Left – i.e Lib/Lab/Green? In some regards the last half century Tories benefitted from split in the Centre/Centre Left. The majority of the country has, since WW2, voted Lib/Lab.

Jos Haynes
Jos Haynes
3 months ago
Reply to  j watson

What is this “Right”? It seems to have changed meaning over the past 60-70 years. I cannot see any old style Right parties on the horizon. All I see are Far Left and Left.
Amazingly, I have to agree with you on something. Reform is benefitting from the despair and disgust which the Tories have aroused, but where they actually stand on many issues is not even what I call centre. They make the right noises but they are still trying to court the centre-left. Tice is without charisma and seems altogether too soft to lead a political party. Unless something changes, I can see vast numbers staying at home come the election (or writing “NONE OF THIS LOT” on the ballot paper). Now I think of it, a party which is to form a government should not just have the greatest number of seats, it should also have a minimum proportion of the electors voting for it (30 per cent?). Abstentions and spoiled votes would then have their value at last recognised.

j watson
j watson
3 months ago
Reply to  Jos Haynes

I think your point about ‘what is the Right’ reaffirms the point I make about the Right may need to take time out almost to have that debate and do it openly and honesty. Perhaps too often the Right places the priority on remaining in ‘power’ before all else – which might arguably be because at it’s core it prioritises being in position to protect some vested interests above all else?
As regards point about voter participation – I think it beholds those who win power to take account of what real level of support they had overall for their manifesto. The bonds of society require this. Winning a big majority but only having c30% of total franchise support should result in considerable humility and moderation in what you then do. I think because we have other elements to UK pluralism in general those checks are there, but worth politicians also communicating they appreciate that.
One recent example of course is Brexit and how we ended up with a ‘Hard’ version. That’s not where the core majority of the Country probably was.

Justin S
Justin S
3 months ago

The Parliamentary Tory Party is made up broadly of right of centre Conservatives whose political compass points to the ideas and concepts of national life from 1950 – 2000. The other half is made up of ‘progressive liberals’ who just happen to not be outright socialists but are without doubt centre ground – left of centre social democrats.
The issue facing them is that more than 50% of those that vote Tory are on the right wing side of that spectrum.
… and we feel like we have been shafted.

In the last 15 years we have seen a massive swing to the liberal progressive on social matters and now we have gay marriage, gender recognition (Trans idiocy), a police force that acts like left wing social workers, an army that is the size of a pea and now wants blokes in skirts (and in beards) with women in charge of all of them, immigration populations that have risen from 3 million to 13 million in 25 years, Islam now celebrated instead of Christianity on our streets.
In economic terms we now have a Tory Party dead set against private landlords, 2nd home owners, the self-employed.
We are economically bankrupt having wasted ÂŁ320 Billion on lockdowns and covid mistakes.
Taxation on everyone and every company at historic highs.
We still kowtow to the European Court of Human Rights.

I could go on as the list is so long.

Suffice to say that after 42 years voting Tory – I now want to see them utterly eviscerated and burned to the ground at the next GE.

No political party can so comprehensively shaft its voter base – and be allowed to continue to exist.

Jos Haynes
Jos Haynes
3 months ago
Reply to  Justin S

I now want to see them utterly eviscerated and burned to the ground at the next GE.
Me too (though have only been an occasional Conservative voter). I want them completely destroyed, never to rise again.

Pamela Booker
Pamela Booker
3 months ago
Reply to  Justin S

Couldn’t agree more with your points. There isn’t a Conservative party now. I would add that the 2010 intake of new MPs – of all parties – has been the worst ever. Few seem to understand their role, fewer still on the front benches. They seem to think their positions are the ends in themselves – especially so the PM. They have ceded all power to the civil service, NGOs and such as Capita & Serco without maintaining justice, fair play and British people first. Were this not the case, we would not be seeing:
Sexualisation of primary school children, male prisoners in female prisons, a depleted military, an utterly dysfunctional NHS; mind-numbing wokery throughout the education and public service institutions, the attacks on british culture getting official recognition in institutions paid for by taxpayers and the worst betrayal of all: Parliament being dictated to by the judiciary and unelected peers. : ÂŁbillions & ÂŁbillions being wasted supporting these anti-british outfits while Sunak wrings his hands, not seeming to understand his role as PM.
Message to Parliament: For God’s sake take charge!

Justin S
Justin S
3 months ago

The Parliamentary Tory Party is made up broadly of right of centre Conservatives whose political compass points to the ideas and concepts of national life from 1950 – 2000. The other half is made up of ‘progressive liberals’ who just happen to not be outright socialists but are without doubt centre ground – left of centre social democrats.
The issue facing them is that more than 50% of those that vote Tory are on the right wing side of that spectrum.
… and we feel like we have been shafted.

In the last 15 years we have seen a massive swing to the liberal progressive on social matters and now we have gay marriage, gender recognition (Trans idiocy), a police force that acts like left wing social workers, an army that is the size of a pea and now wants blokes in skirts (and in beards) with women in charge of all of them, immigration populations that have risen from 3 million to 13 million in 25 years, Islam now celebrated instead of Christianity on our streets.
In economic terms we now have a Tory Party dead set against private landlords, 2nd home owners, the self-employed.
We are economically bankrupt having wasted ÂŁ320 Billion on lockdowns and covid mistakes.
Taxation on everyone and every company at historic highs.
We still kowtow to the European Court of Human Rights.

I could go on as the list is so long.

Suffice to say that after 42 years voting Tory – I now want to see them utterly eviscerated and burned to the ground at the next GE.

No political party can so comprehensively shaft its voter base – and be allowed to continue to exist.

Alan Melville
Alan Melville
3 months ago

I fear that the article i approaching the issue from the wrong angle.
Surely a vote for the (completely incompetent and discredited) Tories is preventing Reform from winning seats?

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
3 months ago

The Conservatives cannot turn the dial because they are no longer trusted to be Conservative. Their base has literally moved on and closed the door behind them. It’s like a marriage – it cannot only withstand so much abuse, infidelity and lies.before the other walks out the door. The base has divorced its political partner and it’s looking for new fields. For some that means apathy and absence in the ballot box; for others it means reform. I suspect.Labput gets at least 2 terms and possibly 3 based on the fallout. Divorce is always messy.

Matthew Jones
Matthew Jones
3 months ago

If you love this country, then the best thing you can do for it come November is to vote for Reform.