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Reform Sets Up Tory Defections Unit

Reform leader Richard Tice (Alamy)

4 min read

Right wing party Reform UK has set up a new unit focused on handling potential defections to its ranks as it tries to lure disgruntled Conservative party MPs and councillors. 

The unit, described as a "defections management team", has taken the lead on discussions with Conservative MPs and councillors who have expressed an interest in switching allegiances ahead of May's local elections, and the general election that is expected to take place later in the year.

Richard Tice, the party's leader, said earlier this month Reform had been speaking to "quite a lot" of Tory politicians at local and national level about joining his party. Reform is expected to confirm a number of council leader defections in the coming weeks, PoliticsHome understands. Tice also claimed "a lot of very disappointed and disgruntled" former cash donors to the Conservative party were getting in touch with him to ask "How can I help?".

The unit is described as being "more pastoral than it is political", advising potential defectors on considerations like the impact it could have on their friendships with people in the world of Conservative party politics, as well as how joining Reform might affect their families. 

The role Reform could play at the next general election has become a major talking point in Westminster in recent weeks, with opinion polls published since late last year indicating growing support for the party. Reform's surge seems to have largely come at the expense of support for the Conservatives, fuelling Tory concern that Tice's party could split the right wing vote and help Labour achieve an even bigger majority when the country next goes to the polls.

Reform has sought in particular to challenge the Conservatives on the issue of immigration as the Prime Minister struggles in his bid to deport people to Rwanda if they arrive illegally in the UK on small boats. 

The possible return of Nigel Farage to frontline politics in the coming months could make Reform an even bigger electoral threat to the Conservatives. The former leader of the UK Independence Party and The Brexit Party is weighing up whether to play a prominent public role in Reform and if so, what form that would take. He has been linked with returning as leader, but may decide to be an active campaigner for the party instead.

A poll published in The Sunday Times at the weekend showed that Reform would win the House of Commons seat of Clacton if a general election was held tomorrow and Farage was the party's leader. The town in Essex is the only constituency UKIP ever held, after former Tory Douglas Carswell defected to the pro-Brexit party and won the subsequent by-election. The poll put Reform 10 per cent ahead of the Conservatives with Farage at the helm. 

"I have to say to you that this poll does make the balance of probabilities towards getting back on the pitch stronger," Farage told The Sunday Times. "This poll does make me consider getting back on the pitch far more seriously than ever before.”

The poll was commissioned by Arron Banks, Brexit-backing businessman who was a major UKIP donor when it was led by Farage. Banks is pushing for Farage to make a return to frontline politics in the run-up to the next general election, PoliticsHome understands.

A seperate YouGov poll published by The Telegraph overnight made even more concerning reading for Conservative MPs. The survey, commissioned by Tory peer Lord Frost and a mysterious new group called the Conservative Britain Alliance, said Keir Starmer's Labour would win a 120-seat House of Commons majority based on current public opinion.

However, YouGov has challenged the newspaper's claim that Reform is the difference between a Labour majority and Labour being the largest party in a hug parliament. 

In a statement on Monday, the polling company said it was the newspaper's "own calculation", not theirs, that Reform contesting the 2024 general election is the difference between Starmer's Labour winning a majority and not.

They added that this piece of the newspaper's analysis is not "reliable" as YouGov research shows just a third of people who intend to vote Reform would switch to the Conservatives if Tice's party did not end up standing, whereas the newspaper assumes all of them would switch to the Tories if Reform did not fight the election.

A Conservative Party spokesperson said: “A vote for Reform is a vote for Labour. The Labour Party’s £28bn spending spree would mean nothing but higher taxes, taking us back to square one.

“Only a vote for the Conservatives can stop Sir Keir Starmer.”

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