UK Politics

Next UK General Election Odds and Analysis: Will Reform overtake the Tories?

Reform President Nigel Farage
Nigel Farage is planning to usurp, then lead the Tories

Nigel Farage is predicting his Reform party could beat the Tories at the general election and the polls are tightening. Is he right? Paul Krishnamurty analyses the situation...

  • Gap between pair is closer than ever

  • Farage flirting with leader

  • Reform candidates could be a liability

This question keeps Tory MPs awake at night. An unprecedented challenge to the most successful political party in Western European history, which could transform UK politics, and has already yielded one high-profile defection in Lee Anderson. Now Betfair have a market on who wins more votes at the next general election.

Tories remain on the floor in polls

With a maximum nine months until the next general election, there is no evidence of Rishi Sunak's Conservative Party turning their fortunes around. Monday's Redfield and Wilton survey recorded the Tories at their lowest ever mark and a mere six points ahead of Reform. More than twice as many voters prefer a Labour government. Even pollsters using methodology favorable to the Tories, such as Opinium, are projecting a worst-ever result.

Farage could turbo-charge Reform progress

Meanwhile, Nigel Farage is looming larger. The man who has transformed Conservative politics over the past decade is flirting with returning as Reform leader and predicting his new vehicle will win more votes than the Tories. What happens next?

Considering Reform have polled within 4%, without any MPs until Anderson's recent defection, it is certainly possible they usurp the Tories. Recent general election campaigns have produced extreme swings and drama, coinciding with much greater engagement from voters. Farage and the associated populist Right social media machine have far greater potential to grow than their established rivals.

Don't expect a big breakthrough in May

However we also cannot rule out the possibility that Reform are over-hyped. They haven't competed seriously in a by-election yet. The suspicion persists that most favourable polls are over-sampling the most engaged, and ideological respondents.

In May's local elections, they will contest only a small minority of council seats and win very few. Assuming it is to be a bad night for Rishi Sunak, Labour and the Lib Dems will steal the positive headlines. For Reform, the big test will be the Blackpool South by-election, where they could plausibly finish second.

Moving forward, expect a series of embarrassing, unvetted candidates to be unveiled. This is always the way with new parties without infrastructure and the nature of the 21C far-Right. (See MAGA Republicans). The well-funded Tory machine will micro-target their worst excesses to their target audience.

Don't assume Farage would be elected

At this stage, they compare unfavorably with Farage's previous vehicles. UKIP had real electoral success - in Euro and by-elections - and their purpose was a longstanding, deeply held position in UK society. Yet despite achieving 13% of the popular vote in 2015, the party elected a grand total of zero MPs. Despite hand-picking the constituency, Farage failed yet again to be elected to Westminster.

The Brexit Party won the 2019 Euro elections, nearly won a by-election, topped national polls. The effect was to kill off Theresa May's premiership and enable the Boris Johnson regime. Farage withdrew his candidates from Southern marginals to help the Tories, whilst the party earned 2% of the national vote just from the mostly Labour-held seats it did contest.

Again, Farage's moves will be critical. If he returns as leader, overtaking the Tories at least in some polls feels likely. However, I am sceptical. There are very few constituencies which Reform could win and yet another defeat would spoil his ultimate, stated plan to become Tory leader. Better to wait, then be selected by the post-election successor to Sunak. I reckon this master of self-publicity will keep us guessing, soak up the attention, then opt out.

Tories bound to lose far-Right flank

However unlike 2019, I do not expect Reform will do a deal with the Tories. In any case, it is far from clear that their voters would revert to the Tories in great numbers. It is almost inevitable that the far-Right of Johnson's coalition will defect now Brexit is off the ballot. The Tories squeezed the far-Right like never before in the unique 2019 election. Now, without Brexit, the far-Right of Johnson's coalition are ripe for defecting or staying at home.

The current poll average has the pair at CON 24, REF 12. There is a scope for that combined percentage to rise, but I doubt it goes higher than 40%. How that share is split will determine hundreds of constituencies. Three MRPs last week pointed to enormous Labour majorities, but there was a wide differential between the results. Reform are the key 'known unknown'.

Given Farage has crushed far-Right alternatives, I expect there's a solid 5-6% of support for Reform. If the election were tomorrow, I'd predict CON 26/REF 12. Whilst better than the current poll average, such a result would not necessarily avert the Tory existential crisis and post-election machinations. Tactical voting is easier to orchestrate than ever and has the potential to annihilate the Tories. Under First Past the Post, it is hard to win seats with less than 40%.

They would, however, remain well above 100 seats in that scenario and Reform would likely not win any. Farage would be weakened. An alternative scenario could see the two right wing parties cut each other's throats though. Were they to end up tied on 19%, it would become very hard for either to win any seats at all under our voting system.

I don't think we should overstate the Reform threat. Regarding our new vote share market, I price it around 1.171/6 for the Tories, 6.05/1 for Reform. But if Farage were to return, those odds could halve.

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