Reform UK steals Conservatives' countryside vote as it plunders 'Rural Right'

Richard Tice, leader of Reform UK, said he has been in contact with Conservative backbenchers about defecting at the election - Daniel Leal/Getty Images
Richard Tice, leader of Reform UK, said he has been in contact with Conservative backbenchers about defecting at the election - Daniel Leal/Getty Images

Reform UK is poised to steal the Tory countryside vote as it plunders the “Rural Right” ahead of the next election, a new analysis has found.

The party – described by Nigel Farage, its honorary president, as a “direct descendent” of his now-defunct Brexit Party – has set its sights on “obliterating” the Conservatives at the ballot box.

New research, seen by the Telegraph, reveals that some of the Tories’ most loyal voters are turning to Reform UK.

The Conservatives are now losing two in every five of their 2019 voters, according to in-depth polling and analysis by YouGov. They have retained just 58 per cent of their voters at the last election, with 14 per cent of their previous supporters now intending to vote for Reform UK.

The research was commissioned by the think-tank Labour Together for a new report which examines voter intentions ahead of the next election and compares it with 2019.

It divides the British electorate into six “voter segments”,  five of which backed Boris Johnson in the 2019 election.

However, just two of these segments are behind Rishi Sunak and support even among those groups is splintering with Reform UK posing the biggest threat, the analysis shows.

One of the groups that continues to back the Tories is “Rural Right”, the most socially conservative and economically Right-wing group in the electorate.

Traditionally the Conservatives’ most faithful supporters, 85 per cent of this group voted for the Tories in 2019 with the same proportion voting for Brexit.

Now just 55 per cent say they will back Rishi Sunak at the next election while support for Reform UK is soaring and now attracts up to 28 per cent of these voters. Just under a fifth (18 per cent) are yet to decide who to vote for.

The Rural Right segment is predominantly made up of older voters and a third of them are retired. They reside largely in rural areas across England, particularly in the North East, South East, Yorkshire and Humber. This group, which represents 10.6 per cent of the electorate in England and Wales, are well-off and likely to own their home outright.

The only other group which currently still backs the Tories is the “English Traditionalists” - but support among this type of voter is also diminishing, the analysis shows.

In 2019, 77 per cent voted for the Conservatives but just 50 per cent say they will vote for Mr Sunak. 14 per cent have turned to Reform UK and 24 per cent now back Labour. Close to a third (31 per cent) of these voters - the largest share of any group - are unsure of who they will vote for, making them a target demographic for the next election.

The oldest group of the six segments, the English Traditionalists tend to hail from the “boomer” generation and are largely retired, according to Labour Together’s report.

Like the Rural Right, they are socially conservative but are more centrist on economic issues. Representing almost a fifth (17.8 per cent) of the electorate, they are likely to own their own home, take a dim view on immigration and believe in tougher sentences for criminals.

Unnerving Tory backbenchers

The Conservatives are ramping up preparations for the next election, with a surge in support for Reform UK unnerving Tory backbenchers.

Senior officials at the Conservative Party headquarters are “significantly” increasing efforts to attract new donations and are hiring a series of campaign managers. While Reform UK is unlikely to take any seats from the Tories, it could syphon off votes in key marginals, meaning they swing to Labour.

Richard Tice, its leader, has said he has been in contact with several Conservative backbenchers about defecting at the next election. Tory MPs have expressed fears that those who voted for them in 2019 will turn to Reform UK because the Conservatives have “failed to deliver” on immigration.

Some have warned Mr Sunak he needs to take the threat from Reform UK more seriously, pointing out former Prime Minister David Cameron’s underestimation of Ukip.

Three of the remaining four voter segments supported the Conservatives in 2019 but support among these groups is now crumbling, the analysis shows. These include the “Patriotic Left” - the old Red Wall voter, who are older and socially conservative but economically Left-wing. Of this group, 49 per cent voted for the Tories at the last election but just 15 per cent are on course to next time.

Among the “Disillusioned Suburbans” - defined as young, economically insecure and fairly centrist in their political outlook - 23 per cent are expected to vote Tory at the next election, down from 44 per cent in 2019.

And another group to turn its back on the Tories are the “Centrist Liberals”, a more affluent demographic who are mainly based in cities in the south of England and are Left of centre in both their economic and cultural outlook. A fifth of this group (20 per cent) are forecast to vote Conservative at the next election, down from 37 per cent in 2019.

The final voter segment is the “Activist Left”, a city-based and young group of voters who are to the Left on both economics and cultural issues. This was the only group that overwhelmingly supported Labour in 2019, with 70 per cent voting for the party’s former leader Jeremy Corbyn and 75 per cent expected to back Labour at the next election.

‘Loyal Tory voters are deserting’

YouGov surveyed a nationally representative sample of over 5,000 adults in England and Wales, with the fieldwork carried out in early February.

Labour Together, a new think-tank with close ties to Sir Keir Starmer’s office, will publish its first report on Sunday which includes a detailed analysis of voters which the party needs to target.

The think-tank aims to come up with a raft of policy recommendations that will feed into Labour’s election strategy by repositioning the party as “socially to the Right and economically to the Left”.

Joshua Simons, director of Labour Together, said: “Deep in their traditional heartlands, once loyal Tory voters are deserting the Conservatives and heading towards Reform. [This] shows how far and how fast Conservative support has crumbled since 2019. Rishi Sunak has an electoral mountain to climb.”

He added the new research shows that Labour is in a “strong position to rebuild its Red Wall, and that the old suburban bellwethers are swinging to Labour too”.