Can Reform UK hit the Tories at the ballot box?

If it can build on Lee Anderson’s defection, Nigel Farage’s former party could even beat the Tories in share of the vote, says Sean O’Grady

Tuesday 12 March 2024 20:58 GMT
Lee Anderson announcing his defection from Conservatives to Reform UK on Monday
Lee Anderson announcing his defection from Conservatives to Reform UK on Monday (Getty)

Opinion polls will soon give us some idea of the electoral impact of Lee Anderson’s journey from deputy chairman of the Conservative Party to Reform UK’s first MP. As big as news of his defection was, it’s probably not going to move the political dial much further, but it might help Reform UK build some momentum in the coming months, eroding what’s left of the Conservative vote. On past evidence, the Budget won’t have boosted the government’s chances of winning a fifth term either. More defections, and grumbling about Rishi Sunak’s policies and leadership, might follow.

Will there be more defections?

There could well be. As Shakespeare put it: “When sorrows come, they come not single spies but in battalions.” The speculation is that a few – less than a half dozen – might switch, if only because they think they have little to lose. Only two Tory MPs have thus far come out and called for Sunak to quit: Andrea Jenkyns and Simon Clarke, the latter of whom seems content to carry on as unofficial secretary of the Liz Truss Fan Club. Other potential recruits include Marco Longhi (Dudley North) and Jill Mortimer (Hartlepool), who’ve both recently defended Anderson, and perhaps Miriam Cates (Penistone) and Danny Kruger (Devizes). Interestingly, Hartlepool was where Reform UK party leader Tice stood in 2019 and won a creditable 25.8 per cent of the vote, and where he is due to stand again.

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