The Speaker
Sunday, 21 July 2024 – 08:59

Can Reform Overtake the Tories?

NOTE: This is an opinion article – any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Speaker or any members of its team.

Modern Britain has always been (give or take) a two party system. One constant force in this binary system has been the Conservative Party (The Tories). Like the LNP (Coalition) in Australia or Germany’s CDU, the Tory Party is often described (mostly by themselves but nonetheless) as the natural governing party of the UK. They are one of the oldest political parties in the world as they approach their 190th anniversary. In this time they have spent roughly 97 years in power, post war they have been in power for around 42 years. The party that has opposed them throughout the years however has not always remained constant. Initially opposed by the Whigs, then Liberal Party and since the interwar period, the Labour Party. The Tories have successfully been able to evolve and rebrand when other parties seem to crumble around them. 

However, as they grind through one of their most turbulent and borderline catastrophic periods in living memory, the phrases ‘extinction level event’ and ‘replacement’ are cropping up in what could be seen as over-sensational headlines. What has sparked this language is their objectively bad polling (around 20%) and Reform UK’s objectively positive recent polling (around 14%) that has put them within touching distance of the Tories at a time when a general election hangs over the country like a blessing to some and an anvil to others. 

To say that the Tories are expected to lose the coming general election would be a massive understatement. Current polls show Labour at around 43% and the Tories at around 20%. If these numbers were mirrored at a general election, according to the Electoral Calculus, we could see the Tories reduced to 36 MP’s and would give Labour a majority of over 300 seats. 

Four years and three Prime Ministers since the last General Election and the Tories are in complete disarray and as if Labour wasn’t an issue enough, they face a very real threat from the right with Reform UK, highlighted by their recent polling and talk of Tory MPs defecting to the party.

But who are Reform UK many people will be asking, especially as local elections loom, soon to be followed by the general election. It is a fair question to ask, before this Reform has struggled to get a lot of traction. Forming out of the ashes of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, which won the European elections and heavily influenced the subsequent 2019 general election, Reform struggled to find its position on the UK political spectrum. With political newbie and businessman Richard Tice taking over the party and Nigel Farage taking a backseat role of ‘Honorary President’ whilst also remaining in the not-so-backseat role of majority shareholder of the party (which is listed as a company, unlike most other parties), the party initially positioned itself as an anti-lockdown party during the covid pandemic before returning to a more familiar UKIP-style, anti migration and pro low-tax party. 

The support for Reform of course comes from the right. Playing up to the infighting within the Tory Party over issues such as immigration, the tax burden and public services, as well as the modern ‘culture war’ and identity politics, it is no coincidence that Reform’s highest national polling comes at a time when the Tories suspended ‘red wall’ MP, Lee Anderson over his comments on Sadiq Khan (claiming the Mayor was under the control of islamists) before he subsequently joined Reform. With policies such as stopping all ‘non-essential’ migration, it would be easy to see why Reform are seen as the successors of UKIP.

UKIP however never eventually polled this close to the tories (though they did get 12% of the vote in the 2015 General Election) and they never were able to get a significant number of MP’s elected to the House of Commons (mainly due to the First Past the Post system, which they are expectedly against). So could Reform overtake the now unpopular Tory Party in terms of vote share and more importantly, seats? It is of course uncertain but they do still have an ace up their sleeve. 

It is no secret that Farage is popular amongst sections of the Tory Party and the country generally. The last Tory conference had Farage as an unintentional headline act as he danced around with former Home Secretary and ex UKIP staffer, Priti Patel. Speaking to Politics Home he stated he’d be ‘very surprised’ if he was not leading the Tories by 2026. His attention however may have shifted recently from leading it, to destroying it. In a recent interview with The Spectator, he remarked that the Tories “don’t deserve our vote, they deserve to get an appalling result”. It is easy to see how Farage reentering frontline politics under a Reform banner could tip the scales in favour of them over the Tories. 

The question of replacement is still massively uncertain and would be even if Reform and more capable and popular leadership. In recent by-elections the party has not done too well with Farage commenting that the party’s biggest weakness is its lack of structure or organisation. Their predecessor also were unable to win more than one seat in 2015 despite their near 5 million votes. It would be pretty easy to argue that far from destroying the party, a disastrous election defeat may instead trigger another evolution of the party. Just as they arguably absorbed the UKIP and Brexit Party votes in 2017 and 19 respectively, next term may see the Tories lurch to the right, picking up Reform’s policies and messaging along with their voters.

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