Spectre of Reform UK will shape direction of Tory party

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Good morning. One of the things that really worries Conservative MPs is Reform: the rebranded Brexit party led by Richard Tice, who took over from Nigel Farage in 2021.

Their concern is in part because of its potential to do big damage to the Tory party, and in part because it is a useful cudgel in the party’s internal debates. Some thoughts on that in today’s note.

Inside Politics is edited by Georgina Quach. Follow Stephen on Twitter @stephenkb and please send gossip, thoughts and feedback to

What we talk about when we talk about Reform

Jasmine Cameron-Chileshe has a great piece about the new(ish) rightwing party Reform UK and the unease it is causing in Conservative circles.

Although the Tories’ biggest problem is that they are shipping votes to the Labour party and that the Liberal Democrats look well-placed for a big revival in their southern seats, Reform occupies a larger space in the Conservative mind because many Tory MPs have already resigned themselves to general election defeat. They think that the seats Boris Johnson gained in the 2019 election are going back to Labour no matter what. Meanwhile, many Tories see their most vulnerable Remainer-heavy seats being handed to Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

Some Conservatives don’t think they can avoid going into opposition next time. However, they do think they can avoid a catastrophic defeat, and one way they can do that is squeezing Reform down from the high single-digit ratings it enjoys in the most recent polls down to 2 or 3 per cent of the vote.

For other Conservatives, talking up the threat of Reform is a way to ventriloquise certain arguments they have about the party’s current policy programme. As one senior Tory tells Jasmine:

“If people are fed up and feel like we aren’t really enacting Conservative policies then Reform is the obvious answer.”

I hear a variation on this a lot from Tory MPs. By “Conservative policies”, what they really mean is “Rishi Sunak’s tax rises, Jeremy Hunt’s tax rises, the spending commitments in the 2019 manifesto, and the failure to stop the Channel crossings”.

Of the voters that the Tory party are losing to Reform, the majority aren’t actually all that bothered by the party’s tax rises and support the spending commitments in the 2019 manifesto. The only part of Tice’s platform that is really attractive to Reform’s voters is its position on immigration.

If the Conservatives do lose the next election, then “the real meaning of Reform” will be a big part of their internal debates. The spectre of Reform will be the way MPs argue that the party needs to recover the spirit of Liz Truss, even though the voters who are deserting the Tory party for Reform couldn’t be further from Trussonomics if they tried.

Rounding up

A regular Inside Politics reader question is “are the polls wrong?” It’s an important issue we should keep discussing. The evidence from last year’s local elections and the various parliamentary elections is that, as far as the Conservative-Labour battle is concerned, the opinion polls are about right.

There is an important “but” here, though, which is that Reform has done far worse in those elections than the polls suggest it “ought” to have done.

Farageist parties have always struggled to match the ground game of the other parties, but Reform’s performances in last year’s by-elections are notably worse than Ukip’s were in comparable seats in 2010-5.

A persistent problem pollsters have had is over-sampling highly engaged voters. So it may be that the reason why Reform is not doing as well in actual elections as the polls suggest is that the pollsters have too many Tory voters who have actually heard of Reform and are backing it, and not enough less-engaged voters who are simply switching to Labour or the Liberal Democrats.

It’s certainly something worth looking out for in the local elections at least. The very large number of traditionally safe Conservative seats ought to offer a good opportunity for Reform.

Now try this

I have mostly been listening to Max Richter’s debut record Memoryhouse. A really lovely record.

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