Mercer warns would-be Reform voters not to give Starmer ‘unchecked’ power

Sir Keir Starmer could be given “unchecked” power as prime minister if Reform UK picks up voters from the Tories, veterans minister Johnny Mercer said.

In the latest sign that the Tories are now fighting to maintain as many MPs as possible as an opposition party, Mr Mercer said “if you vote Reform, you’re going to get a Labour government”.

The Tory strategy of warning voters that backing Nigel Farage’s party could result in a Labour landslide has intensified, after an opinion poll put Reform ahead of the Conservatives.

Graphic tracking opinion polls, which puts Labour on 42%, 21 points ahead of the Conservatives on 21%, followed by Reform on 15%, the Lib Dems on 11% and the Greens on 6%
(PA Graphics)

An average of all polls that were carried out wholly or partly during the seven days to June 14 puts Labour on 42%, 21 points ahead of the Conservatives on 21%, followed by Reform on 15%, the Lib Dems on 11% and the Greens on 6%.

Mr Mercer acknowledged the Tories were facing a tough campaign and there were occasions when “morale plummets”.

He told Sky News: “This election is tough, right? And it was always going to be tough after 14 years in power, and clearly the campaign’s been up and down as well.

“But I don’t see those polls reflected on the doorsteps.

“I think people are focusing in and as we get closer to that election, they’re really starting to see that clear choice, if you like, between Starmer, who every time he goes on TV just refuses to rule out serious things like capital gains tax, like he did last night, and the Conservatives, who are dealing with a tricky situation, but actually if you look at the manifesto, there’s a real bold plan there.”

He added: “If you vote for Reform, you’re going to get a Labour government, you’ll get unchecked power from a Labour government to come in and change the face of this country into something that I don’t believe it is, I don’t think it is a left-wing country.”

On Times Radio Mr Mercer acknowledged that his seat, which has a notional majority of 13,262 if the 2019 contest was fought on the current boundaries, was at risk.

He said Conservative Campaign HQ (CCHQ) “should be worried about me, it’s very hard out there on the doors and the polling is very much against us”.

He said he was fighting for every vote “and that’s what politics is about, getting out, having a conversation with people and, to be honest, that side of it is really encouraging, it’s great fun”.

“It’s when you come home and see the media and all the rest of it that morale plummets.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will not be on the campaign trail on Saturday and is due to attend a major international summit on Ukraine in Switzerland.

But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is highlighting his party’s plans for the NHS with a visit to a hospital in the East Midlands.

In an interview with The Times, shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said he would not judge people who went private instead of using NHS treatment.

“People who are going private are refugees, not traitors,” Mr Streeting said.

“People are voting with their feet, through no fault of their own, I don’t judge people who have paid to go private – they’re fleeing from the NHS.”

Shadow work and pensions secretary Liz Kendall has defended Labour’s claim that NHS waiting lists could rise to 10 million, despite a think tank saying that was “highly unlikely”.

Responding to the Institute for Fiscal Studies’ criticism, Ms Kendall told Sky News: “We’re saying that if there’s another five years of the Conservatives, you could see 10 million people waiting in pain or feeling they have to try and pay to go private to deal with their problem.”

She said it was a “reasonable assumption” that was based on what had already happened under the Conservatives and “if the trend continues in the future, as it has done in the past, that’s what we’re likely to see”.

The Tories have dismissed the Labour attack as “scaremongering”.

Ms Kendall also sought to clarify Labour’s position on tax, after Tory claims that Sir Keir was secretly planning to impose capital gains tax on the sale of primary residences.

“We would not put capital gains tax on people’s primary homes. We want to see taxes come down on working people,” she told Times Radio.

She declined to give the same commitment on whether the level of capital gains tax for activities such as selling shares would increase.

But she said “there is nothing in our manifesto that requires any other tax increases than the ones we have set out”.