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By Lord Watson of Wyre Forest
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Reform UK's Success Hinges On Surpassing National Polling At Local Elections

Richard Tice addressed a press conference in Westminster on Monday attacking the two major parties(Alamy)

4 min read

A successful night at the local elections for Reform UK will be achieving "well above 15 per cent" in the areas they are standing, as the insurgent right wing party threatens to eat into the Tory vote.

Reform leader Richard Tice hosted a press conference in Westminster on Monday with the backdrop declaring “Britain Needs Reform”. Tice claimed that the UK was “completely and utterly broken” and committed to a series of policies to revitalise the economy and health service, including a tax relief for private healthcare and scrapping Net Zero to bolster NHS spending.

The Reform leader boasted that the party was climbing in the opinion polls and managing to attract disgruntled voters from both the Conservatives and Labour, who he accused of betraying the “working class”.

“We are now actually polling the highest amongst Brexiteers across the whole of the UK. We're above the Tories in the North, equal in the Midlands, so we're making huge strides," Tice said. 

“Why you might ask? Well, it’s actually pretty clear. The truth is country is completely and utterly broken.”

YouGov's most recent Westminster voter intention polling predicted that Reform would win 16 per cent of the vote if the general election was held tomorrow, with the Conservative Party at 20 per cent and Labour at 43 percent. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak must call a general election before the end of the year. While this would not necessarily award Reform any parliamentary seats, it is believed that the split of the right wing vote between the Tories and Reform could be a boost for Labour. If such a result was replicated on polling day, Labour would end up with more than 400 seats compared to the Tories’ 155 – which would be the worst in the party’s history.

It is expected Reform will only be standing in 15 per cent of wards which are up at the local elections on 2 May, offering an early test of whether such polling for Reform UK holds up in reality. Electoral experts remain relatively sceptical that it will. 

Chris Hopkins, Political Research Director at Savanta, told PoliticHome Reform should be closely compared to their ideological cousins UKIP in 2015, when Nigel Farage's former party won a slew of local councillors and subsequently received four million votes at the general election.

“There's just not that infrastructure. Voting is a habit-forming exercise, and [people are] not in the habit of voting for Reform," he said. 

“Reform are not giving their potential voters an opportunity to start voting for the party until the crunch of a general election potentially. It just feels a little bit of a poor strategy.

"I understand why the party has to be very targeted. But I think it just gives the electorate this impression that you're not serious, you're not for real."

He believed the national vote for Reform will likely be "quite low" because the party is not standing everywhere, and for the party to show they were a serious threat in the areas they are standing, Reform should be hitting "well above 15 per cent" to show they are capable of achieving at least 13 per cent in the next general election. 

Lord Hayward, a Conservative peer and psephologist, told PoliticsHome he was surprised how few candidates Reform were putting up at the next election "for a party that is supposedly doing so well in the opinion polls".

Hayward said immigration was still an important issue for many of Reform's target voters compared to when UKIP reached the peak of its popularity between 2014-2015. However, one major problem for the party is that they have "lost Brexit", which was "the salient issue" in 2015 for many of its likely voters. 

Scarlett Maguire, Director at JL Partners, told PoliticsHome Reform was still a new party compared to UKIP which had decades to build up a ground operation that could spread the party's message and hand out leaflets, 

She believed Tice's party should be looking to double its vote share from the 2023 local elections when the party achieved just 6 per cent of the vote. 

"You’d want to be seeing similar sort of increases in the places where they are standing," she said.

However, Maguire issued a reminder that local elections usually have a very small turnout and are not necessarily the best bellwether for a general election, especially when Reform voters could be “lower propensity voters” – who are voters which are less likely to turn out.

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