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Next Tory Leader Has "Big Strategic Call" To Make On Winning Back Voters

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on the campaign trail (Alamy)

3 min read

The next leader of the Conservatives faces “a big strategic call” as to whether they “sacrifice” some of their new voter base to win back the voters that have shifted to Labour and the Liberal Democrats in recent years, according to former government adviser Sam Freedman.

As things stand, Rishi Sunak's Conservatives are very likely to lose the 4 July general election, with opinion polls continuing to give Keir Starmer's Labour large, double-digit leads. If the Tories do lose, then they will be expected to replace Sunak with a new leader, who would be tasked with rebuilding the party's support.

According to Freedman, a senior fellow at the Institute for Government think tank, the new leader faces a choice between trying to double down on the party's current efforts to attract older, Brexit-supporting voters, or instead appealing to voters who have ditched them for Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

The Tory voter base has “changed quite dramatically” since the Brexit vote in 2016, and is now older than it was previously, as well as being less economically liberal and socially Conservative, he explained.

While the issue of Brexit helped reinforce this new voter base over the last two elections, it came at the expense of other Tory voters, and after the General Election, any new leader may face a decision on whether the party reinforces its new voter base, at risk of switching to Reform UK, or tries to win back those who have shifted towards Labour and the Liberal Democrats over the last eight years. 

Since Brexit, the Conservatives “lost some voters who had voted Remain, and they gained a lot of voters who had voted Leave,” Freedman explained. 

“What that did to the distribution of their vote is it made it much older on average.”

The shift “created this big age split in the electorate which hadn’t been there, and it created a big education split so the Conservative vote became much less likely to be a graduate than a Labour vote".

He added: “You had these two big splits in the voter bases that were new and the Conservatives in 2017 and 2019 exploited that quite effectively using Brexit as a big wedge issue to maximise that bit of the vote."

These demographics now make up “by far their main group of voters”, so if the Tories “don’t appeal to that group of voters they risk squeezing them”. 

“They have to work very hard to keep that vote, but in doing so it becomes very hard for them to win back the types of voters that may have voted for them in previous eras,” Freedman said. 

Since the start of the General Election campaign, there have been a number of policy announcements from the Conservatives that have been viewed as trying to shore up their support in this newer voter base, including the national service policy and a so-called triple-lock-plus on pensions, and dissuade these voters from switching to Reform UK. 

“How they reorient the party to appeal to people of my demographic without losing this new vote, or whether they have to sacrifice some of that in order to win back. That’s a big strategic call for whoever ends up being the next leader,” Freedman said. 

The most recent voting intention poll from YouGov showed the Tories and Reform almost equal on vote share, with Sunak’s party on 19 per cent, compared to Reform’s 17 per cent. The poll was conducted after Nigel Farage announced on Monday that he was taking over as Reform UK leader, replacing Richard Tice, and standing as a candidate in Clacton.

The poll was the first done with a new methodology being used by YouGov. Had the data been processed under the old methodology, used until last week, the parties would have been neck and neck, on 18 per cent each. 

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