August 2, 2022 - 7:00am

Whoever becomes Conservative leader will need to find a way to appeal to national populist voters, namely the relatively working-class voters who want immigration levels reduced.

Why? Because Johnson’s ‘global Britain’ liberal conservatism appears to be of limited interest to many 2019 Tory voters, the same people who voted Brexit to reduce immigration levels and have come to realise that neither Brexit nor the Tories have delivered on the cultural issues they care about.

As Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak battle for the Tory leadership, one of the questions at the back of the selectorate’s mind will be which candidate can best attract the party’s lost voters. After all, as Matt Goodwin has recently pointed out, it is highly unlikely that the post-Boris Tories will be able to woo the mainly young, graduate and Remain voters who declined to vote for them last time.

The Tories won 44% of the vote in 2019, giving them a huge 80-seat majority. A year ago, after the tumult of the pandemic, they were still on 41% in the polls. However, the Tories now languish at 33%, well behind Labour’s 40%.

In a recent essay at Conservative Home, Alp Mehmet noted that 8 in 10 Tories, and 6 in 10 voters, wanted immigration reduced. It is the second most important issue for Tory voters after the economy. Yet immigration has been given only peripheral attention by candidates in the leadership contest.

In order to understand why, it is worth looking at data from a Delta Poll survey commissioned by Mehmet’s organisation, Migration Watch.

In Figure 1, 1,075 individuals gave a 2019 vote choice. Of these, 503 in the sample chose the Tories and 352 Labour. However, if we examine people’s voting intentions as of 26 July 2022, 374 in the sample said they would vote Labour and just 347 intended to vote Tory. The flow diagram shows what has happened. The Tories have lost far more voters than Labour to the ‘Don’t Know’ category, and a substantial number directly to Labour. Virtually no one who was not already a Tory in 2019 is one today.

Credit: Delta Poll/Migration Watch, 26 July 2022 

While most voters who lost faith with the Tories checked out due to Johnson’s repeated lying, breaking of lockdown rules and general sleaze, Tory Remainers and the prosperous middle class in the ‘Blue Wall’ — who might be most sensitive to this — are not leading this revolt. It is quite the opposite.

What we are instead witnessing is a sense of national populist betrayal in which the Tories are perceived as being in politics for themselves and neglecting the cultural grievances that underpinned the Brexit vote. While many 2019 Tory voters made an allowance for the pandemic and delivering Brexit, there is arguably a sense that the party has no cultural vision, and no will to contest the immigration status quo.

The survey found that 86% of ex-Tories want less immigration compared to 73% of those currently intending to vote Tory. Indeed, Figure 2 shows that working class (C2DE) and immigration restrictionist voters are significantly more likely to have defected from the Tories since 2019. In fact, a working-class voter who wants immigration reduced and voted Tory in 2019 has a better than even (.56) chance of not intending to vote Conservative. Class and immigration attitudes have independent effects on switching.

N=467 2019 Conservative voters. Model controls for age, gender, region and Brexit vote. Pseudo-R2=.033. Class and immigration opinion significant at p<.05 level.

This is not about delivering Brexit. Figure 2 controls for Brexit vote, and the results show that 2019 Tory voters who voted Leave in the 2016 referendum are no more likely than 2019 Tory voters who opted for Remain to have departed. Instead, differences hinge on whether voters are animated by the more politico-economic version of Brexit championed by Johnson and many Tory MPs or the more immigration-sceptic version popular with the base.

Whoever becomes Tory leader will require a message to mobilise the party’s lost national populist voters, many in key ‘Red Wall’ constituencies.

Eric Kaufmann is Professor at the University of Buckingham, and author of the upcoming Taboo: Why Making Race Sacred Led to a Cultural Revolution (Forum Press UK, June 6)/The Third Awokening: A 12-Point Plan for Rolling Back Progressive Extremism (Bombardier Books USA, May 14).