Grim poll shows Rishi Sunak's Conservatives leaking voters to Reform

People who voted Conservative in 2019 are starting to switch to the party set up by Nigel Farage.

London, UK 18 Sept 2023 Nigel Farage gives an interview after a speech by former Prime Minister, Liz Truss. Nigel Farage was the former Leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) from 2006 to 2009 and 2010 to 2016 and Leader of the Brexit Party (renamed Reform UK) in 2021. He said the Conservatives need to decide what to do after they lose the next election. Former Prime Minister, Liz Truss, gave her speech on the economy at The Institute for Government. She said Rishi Sunak should cut taxes, reduce benefit increases, raise the retirement age and delay net-zero commitments, his predecessor.
Nigel Farage is the honorary president of Reform UK, who are soaking up voters deserting the Conservative party. (PA)

The Conservatives are leaking voters to Reform UK, a new poll suggests – putting Rishi Sunak’s tenure as prime minister in even more peril.

Labour’s lead ahead of the Tories continues, according to pollsters, making the prospect of Sir Keir Starmer becoming the next prime minister ever more likely. But Sunak’s hopes of catching up are hindered by Reform – whose founder and honorary president is Nigel Farage.

According to a new poll from Savanta, the Tories are sitting on 27% – 17 points behind Labour, who are on 44%. Reform are polling at 7% in the poll – but it's here their voters are coming from that will raise alarm bells in Downing Street.

Out of those who voted Conservative in 2019, less than two thirds (60%) said they would vote for them again in the next general election. Around one in seven (14%) said they would switch to Labour – but 11% of those former Tory voters said they would switch to Reform.

The poll shows Reform UK on 7% – but data shows they are pulling voters from the Tories, (Savanta)
The poll shows Reform UK on 7% – but data shows they are pulling voters from the Tories, (Savanta)

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Labour’s polling would suggest they are on course to win a large majority in the next election but Reform’s vote could be the difference between some MPs hanging onto their seats in areas with larger Tory majorities, or losing them due to the vote split with Reform. The Savanta poll suggests that nearly one in 10 former Tory voters (9%) said they were currently undecided.

London, UK. 17th Jan, 2024. British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, leaves Number 10 Downing Street to go to Parliament for Prime Ministers Questions. He will face Sir Keir Starmer across the despatch box. He faces a mounting rebellion over his Rwanda Bill which will be voted on later today. Credit: Karl Black/Alamy Live News
Rishi Sunak is fighting to keep Tory voters from switching to Reform UK. (PA)

One of Reform’s key policies is to tackle illegal immigration, which Sunak has vowed to do under his ‘stop the boats’ pledge. But the Rwanda Bill proved divisive during its key vote this week and while it passed the third reading unamended on Wednesday, dozens of backbenchers rebelled to back right-wing amendments over the course of Tuesday and Wednesday. Eleven Tories, including former home secretary Suella Braverman, ultimately voted against it.

The deep divisions within the Tory ranks could prove fruitful for Reform, who may soak up more disenfranchised Tory voters who agree with the rebels and want a stronger policy to deal with immigration.

Tories ‘terrified’

And while the rebels backed the Bill without any changes, it is thought they only did so as a defeat for the government would be damaging ahead of a general election that is only months away.

Reform’s leader, Richard Tice, has previously accused the Tories of being “terrified” of the party’s electoral threat. At a press conference this month, Tice played up the danger his candidates would pose to Sunak’s party and ruled out any electoral pact.

Sunak has warned that voting for reform would only serve to bolster Starmer’s bid to become prime minister. He said: “There’s only going to be two options for prime minister after the next election, it’s either going to be me or Keir Starmer. A vote for anyone who is not a Conservative is a vote for Keir Starmer in power.”

London, UK. 3rd Jan, 2024. Leader of Reform UK Richard Tice speaks during a press conference to outline his party's plans ahead of the general election in London. Reform have increased their standing in the opinion polls to 10%, posing a serious challenge to Conservative seats and MPs across the country. (Credit Image: © Tejas Sandhu/SOPA Images via ZUMA Press Wire) EDITORIAL USAGE ONLY! Not for Commercial USAGE!
Reform UK leader Richard Tice has warned Tories that he will not enter any electoral pact at the general election. (PA)

When might the next general election be?

No date has currently been set for the next general election, and it is up to the prime minister to call it. However, due to the five-year maximum term of the government, polling day could be any time up until January 2025 at the latest.

Prime ministers would usually announce a general election when they are more confident of victory. With the Tories way behind in the polls, Sunak may be holding off for as long as possible so that he can attempt to turn things in his favour.

However, Sunak has signalled that he plans to call a general election in the second half of 2024. Following reports that the country would go to the polls in spring, Sunak told reporters that it is his “working assumption” that that would not be happening.

Undated file photos of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (left) and Labour leader SIr Keir Starmer. Sunak will go to the country in 2024 hoping that economic growth, success in sending asylum seekers to Rwanda and trust in his style of politics will be enough to secure his place in No 10. But the Prime Minister will know that he faces difficulties on all three fronts, with the Bank of England forecasting economic stagnation, the Rwanda plan facing political and legal jeopardy and the Tories trailing far behind Labour in the opinion polls. Issue date: Wednesday December 27, 2023.
Rishi Sunak (l) says the general election is a choice between himself and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer (r). (PA)

Sunak said earlier this month: “My working assumption is we’ll have a general election in the second half of this year and in the meantime I’ve got lots that I want to get on with. I want to keep going, managing the economy well and cutting people’s taxes. But I also want to keep tackling illegal migration."

Sunak was speaking after Labour claimed that a spring vote is the “worst kept secret in Parliament”, saying the announcement of early spring budget date of 6 March seemed to "confirm" it. But the prime minister’s comments suggest that it will almost certainly be this year.

The last election was held on 12 December 2019 with Boris Johnson winning a landslide victory over Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party. The election was dominated by the issue of Brexit but the next one is likely to centre on immigration as Sunak attempts to win back voters who have fled to Reform.