Britain’s Conservative Party is heading for a historic defeat – and it is gradually waking up to the fact that it will be the party’s own fault

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak departs 10 Downing Street for Prime Ministers Questions at Parliament in London, Britain, 10 January 2024. EPA-EFE/ANDY RAIN


“Don’t vote for Reform UK,” senior Conservatives say, “If you do, you will let the Labour Party in through the back door”.

This amounts to the entire campaign strategy that Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party have managed to come up with in order to deal with the growing momentum of the post-Farage outfit that is filling up the political space to the Government’s Right.

But there are reasons that that is the best they have got, even though anybody with the slightest awareness of UK politics knows it is hokum.

The simple fact is, and just maybe some Conservatives are waking up to it, that the Conservatives are going to lose the coming election whatever happens.

The Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak could be reincarnated live in the House of Commons as Ganesha or even Shiva and it wouldn’t help. Mile wide seams of gold could be discovered in Kent, we could create and win a small war with a pantomime baddie country. Nothing will help them.

Labour are not sneaking into office when the election is called, they are walking in through the open front door. That much is certain.

What is more, the Conservative front bench will not be there to welcome them in, as most of them will have lost their seats. Any pretence that this is due to the actions of Reform UK is as risible as it is desperate.

The only difference could be the scale of the loss. Given the complete failure of the Conservative Government on policy issues across the board and its turpitude in almost every walk of life, this is no surprise.

The question for those of a conservative disposition is, what difference does a Labour majority of 30 or 300 make?

Yes Labour are awful, but so is the Government. You cannot reward failure.

What is more, Labour is liable to make a pigs ear of Government. They cannot be described as coming to the table laden with talent and quality.

No, thinks the average British punter (though possibly not in these terms), the Augean stables are rancid and filled with ordure. It is time that the people diverted the Thames through the Palace of Westminster. Maybe in six years time the effluent will have emptied and something new can be stabled there.

The power of Reform is not to win the election. Nor even is it to hand the election over to Labour – the Conservatives have done that entirely to themselves. What it does have is the ability to turn a defeat into a rout.

According to polling the Tories have lost just over 50 per cent of their 2019 voters, and for every one that is thinking of voting for Labour, one is doing the same for Reform.

And whilst the amount shifting to Labour has remained static for a while, the number going to Reform is rising and rising fast.

In the last national polls the Tories are now only 7 points ahead of Reform. And now, this week they have suffered their first Westminster defection to Reform in the person of former Conservative Deputy Chairman, Lee Anderson, the epitome of the working class (in his case a former coal miner) Brexit supporting population that Boris Johnson was able to gather into his big tent.

In 2019 the Tories managed to conquer traditional Labour parts of the country, home of what might be described as patriotic Labour.

These seats, Labour for Generations, felt that they were not represented by the metropolitan new Labour party. They had voted for Brexit and felt that the Labour Party had deserted them. They were right.

Today, though they can hear the primal family old Labour song of their past, many have given up on the party of performative virtue and European ambitions for good. In Reform they are beginning to find a home.

The problem for the Tories is that even they do not know what they are for.

I’ve taken to playing a rather cruel game whenever I am in Westminster. I go to one of the pubs that dot the streets next to the old Gothic pile that is parliament, find myself a Tory and ask a question. It doesn’t matter who, I’ve asked parliamentary staffers, workers in the Prime Minister’s office, MPs, former MPs, peers of the realm and in one instance a former cabinet minister.

The question is simple. “What are the Conservatives for?”

I have yet to have a coherent answer. Normally people laugh nervously, shuffle a bit on their feet, one turned around and started nervously gabbling with other friends. The best, and possibly most telling response yet was from the former minister:

“Now Gawan that isn’t a fair question”.

The thing is it is the most important question. If the party of government, if its workers, representatives and acolytes cannot answer that simple question, then why on earth would anybody vote for them.

Amongst those who vote for them, or even used to vote for them the answer is pretty simple.

The Conservative Party is the party of the country. It supports families and the nation, it believes in strong defence and strong borders. Low taxes, our history and our culture. It likes small business and entrepreneurship, it trusts people to live their own lives without too much interference.

It is wary of state intervention and global corporations, it doesn’t like foreign entanglements, but understands that there are times that those are necessary. It is quiet, undemonstrative and caring of its people.

None of this is complex, none of it hard, yet the inability of this Conservative Party to articulate it either in rhetoric or in policy has meant that those who share these views have nowhere to go.

Except that today they do. Lee Anderson’s defection to Reform UK (and many others doing so at local council level across the country) are showing the way. There is now a choice, and millions are taking it.

The Conservative Party is looking at a year of horror and misery, before the public take them to the knacker’s yard. One thing they cannot do is point the blame at anybody else.

As the song goes, “They do it to themselves, they do, and that’s what really hurts”.