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By Lord Watson of Wyre Forest
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Paranoid Conservative MPs Are Wary Of Losing Members To Reform UK

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak with Lee Anderson, who has defected to Reform UK (Alamy)

4 min read

Conservative MPs are becoming increasingly paranoid about losing party activists and members to Reform UK after prominent former Tory MP Lee Anderson defected to the right wing party this week.

Lee Anderson, a former Conservative deputy party chairman, is now Reform's only MP sitting in the House of Commons. 

Last month he was suspended from the Tory Party for suggesting London mayor Sadiq Khan was being controlled by "Islamists". On Monday Anderson told a press conference he had been talking to Reform “for a while” about joining, and claimed he had received 4,000 emails from people across the country urging him to do so.

Paranoia has set in amongst Tory MPs, with many noticing they are receiving fewer messages from their colleagues on their WhatsApp group chats. One MP claimed they had not heard a “squeak” from other MPs because the admins feared that any message could leak to the media. 

Another Tory MP added that the silence reflected the sense of impending doom around the next election – particularly with the strong and growing threat of Reform.

“It is more gloom than not caring about Lee, I think,” they said.

While Conservative MPs appear less worried about the possibility of any more of their parliamentary colleagues crossing the floor of the Commons, there is a growing concern that Anderson’s decision to defect could still have influence on the wider party loyalty and lead to activists and members deserting. There has long been concern that Tory voters could choose Reform instead.

One minister told PoliticsHome they would not be surprised if more party members left associations like theirs to join Reform. They said it was now up to the party and leadership to get the message out that voting for Reform would lead to a Labour Government by splitting the right wing vote. 

“Nobody is going to get a Reform government and, in most places, not a Reform MP either,” they said. “In my view you’d be mad to condemn yourself to a left wing MP and a left wing Government which has a huge majority, just to express some existential angst.”

A Tory MP who holds a role in Government, who had been close to Anderson, said they were extremely disappointed with his decision, and believed his departure enhanced the chances of Keir Starmer reaching No.10.

"We disagreed a lot but I thought we agreed on not having a Labour Government, and this definitely doesn't help,” they said. “He probably will stand in Ashfield. He won’t win though, and it will just let Labour in.”

Figures around Reform UK are not braced for an influx of defecting Tory MPs before the general election, which is due to be called before the end of this year, but they do anticipate winning support from those who end up losing their seats. 

Many backbench Tories remember when UKIP, which represented another revolt on the Right, only received two defections between 2010-2015 when they were at their political height.

Douglas Carswell, who was the MP for Clacton for seven years, was the only MP to hold his seat in the subsequent 2015 election. When he announced he was stepping down from Parliament two years later, UKIP failed to hold or gain any seats at the 2017 general election. 

But the atmosphere among the Tory faithful is growing sour, a fact the Reform seems keen to exploit in target constituencies. 

A Conservative staffer in the southwest said the mood was "bitter" among many of the party membership. Another said that a series of disgruntled members were seriously contemplating voting for Reform.

Reform, which only has a payroll of 12 employees, still faces an uphill battle, even where Tories are struggling. Its next key test will come in an expected by-election in Blackpool South. UKIP gained more than 17 per cent of the vote in the seat in the 2015 election. 

The party will undoubtedly be keen to meet this figure or surpass it to convince many Tory MPs they remain a significant threat. 

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