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Tory Manchester Mayoral Candidate Defects To Reform Party

Richard Tice and Lee Anderson from Reform UK (Alamy)

3 min read

The Conservative Party candidate for the Greater Manchester mayoral election has defected to the Reform Party.

Dan Barker, a Conservative activist from Sale, was selected as the Tory candidate in December 2023. The Reform Party confirmed Barker will now stand as its candidate in the Manchester Mayoral election which will take place on 2 May. 

A source close to the Greater Manchester Conservatives said Barker had not been meeting the “criteria” they expected of him.

PoliticsHome understands Laura Evans has been selected as the new Tory mayoral candidate for Greater Manchester. Evans was the party's candidate for Mayor when the position was last contested in 2021. She received 19.6 per cent of the vote, coming second to Labour's Andy Burnham who won with 67 per cent of the vote. Reform received less than three per cent. 

New polling released by YouGov on Thursday morning showed the Tories support had fallen below 20 per cent for the first time since Rishi Sunak took over as Prime Minister, with 44 per cent of respondents saying they intended to vote Labour. Reform was at 14 per cent and are only five points behind the party in the opinion polls.

A Reform spokesperson said: "Dan has realised the way the Tories treat their candidates is the way they treat the country, with contempt. If he wants to represent ordinary men and women in Manchester, Reform is the only game in town."

A Conservative parliamentary candidate said: "I congratulate Dan on going from being guaranteed to lose because of his mediocrity, to being doubly guaranteed to lose because of his untrustworthiness."

If Barker is unsuccessful in the Manchester mayoral election, he is expected to stand for Reform at the next general election, which is due to be called before the end of the year.

Barker has not met Reform's leader Richard Tice yet but they have spoken on a number of occasions. The new Manchester mayoral candidate is expected to make a speech in Salford on Sunday to set out the party's campaign. 

What attracted Barker to Reform was its pledge to scrap Net Zero. When he was the Conservative candidate, he criticised the Clean Air Zone, which he described as a "Trojan horse" for a ULEZ expansion in Manchester. For a while he was also sympathetic to its pledge for lower taxers, support for small businesses and defence.

"He's clearly feeling liberated. He can say what he thinks and do what he says which, while trying to follow the vagaries of the current Conservative Party, is very hard," a Reform spokesperson said. 

The Tories have 14 days to select a new candidate for the Manchester mayoral election.

A Tory source said: "The Conservatives received under 20 per cent of the vote in Manchester in 2021. We have to be realistic about our prospects in this election and allocate resources accordingly."

A spokesperson for Burnham said the defection of Barker to Reform signalled the collapse of the Tory Party in Greater Manchester.

“The former Tory candidate is jumping off the sinking ship in a bid to save his career but voters in Greater Manchester aren’t impressed by those who put personal ambition and party politics before the needs of our place," they said. 

“Whilst the Tories and Reform head for civil war, Andy will continue to take a place-first rather than party-first approach in delivering for voters of all parties, bringing them together and leading the way for Greater Manchester.”

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