Meet your future leaders?

From abyss to reform

Barring some freak accident, Labour is on course for a landslide. But what happens after that on the right? Eddie Ford discounts extinction, but not a merger and the formation of the Conservative and Reform Party

In many respects, the election campaign has been increasingly dominated by an insurgent Reform UK and its founder-leader, Nigel Farage - who appears to be everywhere.

This phenomenon accelerated after a YouGov poll conducted a week ago showed that Reform was one point ahead of the Tories on 19% - an amazing finding, even if the pollster did give the caveat that this lead was still within the margin of error.1 The rest of the survey had Labour on 37%, with the Liberal Democrats on 14% and the Greens on 7%. Another poll a few days later by Redfield and Wilton Strategies had the Tories and Reform each on 18%.2

Without doubt this is a huge problem for Rishi Sunak and the Conservatives - not least with Nigel Farage’s latest outfit standing in 609 out of 650 constituencies. It is not that Reform is set to sweep into parliament with dozens upon dozen of MPs. It won’t do that - the expectation is of five or six seats at most. No, Reform votes will cause the Tories to be pipped at the post mainly by Labour, but also by Lib Dem candidates.

Meanwhile a not widely known electoral pact with the almost totally forgotten Social Democratic Party - originally founded by the ‘gang of four’ in 1981, then reconstituted nine years later - sees over a dozen candidates standing under a joint Reform-SDP banner.

Real opposition

Unsurprisingly, the YouGov poll emboldened Farage. At an impromptu press conference he declared - much to the derision of the liberal commentariat - that he was now the real leader of the opposition and issued a direct challenge to Sir Keir Starmer to meet him in a head-to-head debate. Believing that there was a growing momentum behind Reform, he predicted that it will receive a greater share of the popular vote than the Tories. Indeed, Farage is undeniably ambitious - wanting to establish a “bridgehead” in parliament as part of the “first important step” on the road to the 2029 general election, where he might even make a bid himself to become prime minister.

Of course, it is easy to dismiss such talk as delusional - Michael Gove accused Farage of being part of a “great entertainment machine” and on “a giant ego trip”, not somebody fit to govern the country any more than Jeremy Corbyn. However, in the short term there can be no doubt that the main beneficiary of Faragism is Sir Keir and the Labour Party. A short while ago leftists of the Labourite and other such varieties were insistent: Sir Keir is ‘useless’, ‘does not want to win’ against the Tories, ‘can’t win’ because of the purge, the statistical odds, lack of ambition, etc. Now the talk is of a Labour landslide and a “supermajority” (whatever that is).

For example, an Ipsos poll shows a 15% swing away from the Tories since 2019 with more than 100 Conservative-held seats appearing to be on a knife-edge.3 Hence it estimates that Labour could win 453 seats and the Conservatives 115 (an implied vote share of 43% to 25%) - a majority of 256 that would represent an even worse defeat for the Tories than the one suffered at the hands of Tony Blair in 1997, when the party won just 165 seats and went into a collective trauma.

When it comes to high-profile names, Nigel Farage is on track to overturn a huge Tory majority in Clacton, while Jeremy Corbyn, standing as an independent, is predicted to lose in Islington North. Big Tory names at risk of losing their seats include Penny Mordaunt, the Commons leader; Gillian Keegan, education secretary; Grant Shapps, defence secretary, and Jacob Rees-Mogg.

In you are a Tory, a Survation poll makes for even more depressing reading, showing the party heading towards the abyss - the Conservatives could be reduced to just 72 seats.4 Meanwhile, a survey by Savanta puts the Tories on 21% - the lowest share for the party recorded by the pollster since the weeks before Theresa May resigned in May 2019, with her government paralysed over Brexit. Conservative hopes are being shot to pieces poll after poll, day after day, with the distinct possibility that things could get still worse. Well, every time Rishi Sunak opens his mouth ...

What next?

Putting it another way, the really interesting question is not so much how the Tories will be hammered - they will - but what happens afterwards? The YouGov poll seems to have disproved our expectation that Reform support would eventually bleed into the Tory Party as July 4 approaches. But that was before Nigel Farage threw his hat into the ring (of course, it might still happen). But if anything, at the moment, we are seeing the reverse - Tory support bleeding into Reform.

Maybe Nigel Farage will win in Clacton - a seat, remember, that Ukip briefly held - and the odious Lee Anderson will take Ashfield, along with a few others here and there. But that won’t matter much at all when it comes to the real drama, which will be played out in the Conservative Party.

Already there is jockeying and manoeuvring about who will become the new Tory leader - Sunak will immediately fall upon his sword when the final election results are announced. Of course, he is saying for the moment that he will stay on as an MP for a full parliamentary term, but those who say he will “disappear off to California” for a better life might well prove right. Obviously, a lot of what comes next has a speculative character. But we might see a situation where Nigel Farage is in parliament and the likes of Priti Patel, Suella Braverman or Jacob Rees-Mogg find themselves amongst the leading contenders.

Needless to say, such individuals are highly sympathetic towards the politics of Farage and Reform. Braverman recently said that the Tories should embrace Farage, as there is “not much difference” between them, and Rees-Mogg too has urged colleagues to “unite the right” by forming a sort of “coalescence”, not “divide the Tory family”. Farage has openly said that one possibility was for Reform to engineer a “reverse takeover” of the Conservative Party.

It is worthwhile thinking a bit about the nature of the Tory Party itself, leaving aside those who spout nonsense about it being historically finished. Just as it was equal nonsense to say that the Labour Party was dead under Michael Foot, with “the longest suicide note in history”, etc, etc.

Of course, it is conceivable that Labour could eventually die or become completely deLabourised with the breaking of the trade union link, and so on - all perfectly possible under certain circumstances. But a merger between Nigel Farage’s private company known as Reform UK and the Tory Party is quite conceivable in the relatively near future - particularly in the aftermath of a likely electoral humiliation that will leave the Tories shell-shocked and looking for a saviour.


After all, Farage for the last week and more has been hawking himself around various studios saying precisely that - telling LBC radio “something new is going to emerge on the centre-right”. Whatever it will be called, he would be “happy” to lead a merged Reform-Conservative party. Interestingly, he has suggested that his political inspiration comes from Canada’s Stephen Harper, who - as part of the Unite the Right Movement - orchestrated a merger between the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, when it became clear that neither of them were independently capable of defeating the governing Liberal Party. This led in 2003 to the formation of the Conservative Party of Canada that ran two minority governments after the federal elections of 2006 and 2008.5

Just take the proper name of the Tories - the Conservative and Unionist Party. Its origin dates back to 1912, when the Tories merged with the Liberal Unionist Party - itself a split from the Liberal Party in opposition to Irish home rule. Indeed, if you look back at the entire history of the Tories, it has been a history of splits and mergers - beginning with a faction inside the Whigs that went over to them, leading to the Conservative Party as we now know it, which over time has brought into it all sorts of disparate elements. Therefore it would not be too surprising if sometime fairly soon we ended up with a new name - eg, the ‘Conservative and Reform Party’, or the ‘Conservative, Reform and Unionist Party’. How long such a name would be used as a worthwhile tag is an entirely different matter, of course.

Idiot left

Except for a few on the left, who actually think the Tories might win (using whatever peculiar reasoning), everyone is waiting for Sir Keir to get the call from Charles Windsor on July 5. Politics in Britain, as in the USA and many parts of Europe, is going sharply to the right. Okay, we might just end up with Jeremy Corbyn or George Galloway returned to parliament. But in terms of its manifesto, this will be the most rightwing Labour government we have ever had. And think again if you imagine for one moment that the Tory Party will do the ‘sensible’ thing by moving to the centre - because the centre is moving to the right, as the right moves further rightwards, while the left is also moving to the right under its gravitation pull.

Look at what passes for ‘common sense’ on the left - vote Labour across the board in the vain hope that this will trigger a ‘crisis of expectations’ (AWL, etc); opt for the pro-Nato Green Party of England and Wales (Graham Bash, Jennie Formby, etc); place faith in the rag, tag and bobtail melange of so-called independents; have a red, white and blue nationalist socialism, aka, George Galloway’s Workers Party; or bank on the dubious prospect of the trade union bureaucracy backing the Tusc Labour Party mark two project (ie, SPEW, and, despite being rudely spurned, the Spartacist League UK).

This is wretched stuff that presents absolutely no alternative to the mainstream bourgeois parties. But it does testify to a bankrupt left.

  1. yougov.co.uk/politics/articles/49735-reform-now-1pt-ahead-of-the-tories-although-this-is-still-within-the-margin-of-error.↩︎

  2. redfieldandwiltonstrategies.com/latest-gb-voting-intention-14-17-june-2024.↩︎

  3. ipsos.com/en-uk/uk-opinion-polls/ipsos-election-mrp.↩︎

  4. survation.com/mrp-update-first-mrp-since-farages-return.↩︎

  5. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unite_the_Right_(Canada).↩︎