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Two new polls leave the Conservatives in existential crisis

The alternative outcome is extinction. Credit: Getty

June 4, 2024 - 7:00am

This general election poses a considerable challenge to commentators, particularly of the Right-wing variety. In normal circumstances, elections derive their excitement from their unpredictability, the widening of leads, the narrowing of gaps, and their ability to throw up the unlikeliest of outcomes.

But almost two weeks into the surprise campaign, there is little new to report. The British public, in its sovereign wisdom, has decided to give a thrashing to the Conservatives, and nothing — not even the outright bribery of pensioners and promises to punish the young for their audacity to exist — will move the polls.

Today’s double offering — one by Redfield & Wilton showing a 26% Labour lead, the other by YouGov predicting the biggest Labour victory in its history, merely confirm what we know already: that the world’s oldest political party is undergoing an existential crisis. And this is all without mentioning Nigel Farage’s auto-coronation, sure to throw Tory efforts at squeezing Reform into disarray.

Of course, the Tory defeat could still be merely catastrophic instead of being annihilatory. Those on the Right who chant “zero seats” [sic] might change their minds in the polling booth, and shame-facedly add their checkmark next to the candidate with the tree logo. The pensioners might yet return to the fold with a promise of a quintuple lock and free blood plasma extracted from the young. Sir Keir Starmer might be unmasked as the man who designed Horizon.

But they may not; and on the principle that the most obvious outcome is usually the most likely outcome, the Tories are in for a near-wipeout. It is telling that today’s YouGov poll, which puts the party on 140 seats, has been received as relatively good news, namely a three-digit number of MPs.

The alternative outcome is of course the famous Canada 1993-style scenario of actual extinction, at two seats. First-past-the-post is unforgiving when a party falls below a certain percentage of the vote. Nor can those on the Right take comfort in a gaggle of Reform MPs, as Canadian Right-wingers did three decades ago.

Reform’s vote, though enough to damn the Tories, is not geographically concentrated enough to provide it with any meaningful number of seats. Perhaps Farage can win Clacton; but Reform, whose diet of incoherent reheated Thatcherisms is barely an improvement on the Conservatives’ offering, is unlikely to win much more than that.

Perhaps the grimmest indication of how the Tories have overstayed their welcome lies in the fact that many Right-wing journalists, advisers, and the like — people whose livelihoods depends on the existence of the Conservative Party as a viable enterprise — openly admit to planning to either abstain or vote against the Conservatives. The only other time I remember such a sentiment was during the 2019 European Parliament elections; but then again, those on the Right have never taken these seriously.

There will still be a campaign in the conventional sense. There will be television debates, ill-judged social media products, gotchas, and deselected candidates, until polling day. But although the Conservatives will keep talking, the British voting public has long stopped listening.


Yuan Yi Zhu is an assistant professor at Leiden University and a research fellow of Harris Manchester College, Oxford.

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Mr. Swemb
Mr. Swemb
21 days ago

I know Labour will be much worse than the Tories but every time I have my doubts about voting anyone but Tory I remember 1) Lock down 2) Net Zero and 3) Smoking ban (to name but three reasons) and I think **** them.

Martin M
Martin M
21 days ago
Reply to  Mr. Swemb

In fairness though, had Starmer been PM for the last 4 years, you definitely would still have got 1) and 2), and a lot more besides.

Basil Schmitt
Basil Schmitt
20 days ago
Reply to  Martin M

Which is precisely why the important Right effort in this election is obliterating the Blairite Tory party. Electing the Labour party won’t make any meaningful difference, and is just a side-effect.

Martin M
Martin M
20 days ago
Reply to  Basil Schmitt

If the Right manages to obliterate the “Blairite Tory Party”, and become the official opposition, it is difficult to see it ever coming to power (unless of course it embraces the same sort of policies that the current Conservative Party has).

Matthew Jones
Matthew Jones
21 days ago

An unfair summation of Reform’s policies. The party are by far the best bet for the future of the UK.

Basil Schmitt
Basil Schmitt
21 days ago
Reply to  Matthew Jones

I agree – to dismiss Reform as just same-old neoliberal Thatcherite rehash is suspicious. Reform promises Right-wing politics in a country where there is no Right to speak of.

Martin M
Martin M
21 days ago
Reply to  Basil Schmitt

Exactly! Thatcher was brilliant! She beat Socialism out of the British people!

Ben Jones
Ben Jones
21 days ago
Reply to  Basil Schmitt

Yuan’s summary says more about his political biases than it does about Reform.

Norfolk Sceptic
Norfolk Sceptic
20 days ago
Reply to  Ben Jones

It’s becoming typical of unheard contributers.

Philip Stott
Philip Stott
20 days ago
Reply to  Matthew Jones

The trouble is that even though Reform have a number of excellent policies, they are reliant on the civil service, NGOs, and the quangocracy to implement them, and they are just not interested. The people those institutions are composed of all think exactly like the social democrat uni-party MPs.
Just look at the civil service union going to court over the Rwanda plan in case doing their jobs may cause their members to fall foul of the civil service code.
The long march through the institutions is complete.
That said, we have to start the fight back somewhere, and a vote for Reform is a good start IMO.

Phil Day
Phil Day
20 days ago
Reply to  Philip Stott

Agree with everything in your comment, will take a very special type of leader to overcome those issues and l suspect the necessary actions won’t be very pretty.

Martin M
Martin M
20 days ago
Reply to  Phil Day

A leader like Trump, perchance?

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
20 days ago
Reply to  Philip Stott

I could be wrong, but I believe the US have a system where the incoming President can appoint replacements to their equivalents of Heads of Civil Service departments. I suspect that until that is put in place here, we are stuffed.

AC Harper
AC Harper
20 days ago
Reply to  Matthew Jones

And if Reform’s policies ‘pull’ votes away from the Conservatives in the next General Election then they are likely to ‘pull’ votes away from Labour in the following General Election – even if Reform win few votes in the mean time. Just as UKIP achieved far more than their parliamentary success would suggest.

Dee Gee
Dee Gee
20 days ago
Reply to  Matthew Jones

I actually think the SDP have a better immigration policy than Reform UKs net zero i.e one-in one-out. The SDP suggest a pause for at least 5 years, similar to what happened in the US from the 1920s to the 1960s, allowing the population time to assimilate/integrate. That being said, Reform are contesting every seat & clearly have all the momentum. For those reasons they’ll get my vote.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
21 days ago

I’m not sure about this automatic assumption of a left right binary – Reform will pull the Conservative vote.

Surely those who may vote for a Farage party are the red wall (ex-Labour) Brexit voters. It is clear nobody is enthusiastic about Starmer.

Martin M
Martin M
21 days ago

Politics is fickle nowadays. A few years ago (2012, from memory) the Labor Party in the State of Queensland, Australia was reduced to just seven seats. Although that State Parliament is smaller than the House of Commons (89 seats), it was a severe thrashing, and there were lots of jokes about how the Opposition could come to Parliament in one Toyota Landcruiser. At the next election, the Labor Party was back in power.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
21 days ago
Reply to  Martin M

I agree; it’s like watching a seismograph in the run-up to a big earthquake and you can’t be sure what will be left when the dust has settled.

Ben Jones
Ben Jones
21 days ago

What was the point of this article? It told me nothing I (or anyone else who isn’t living under a rock) didn’t already know.

Robbie K
Robbie K
21 days ago

But although the Conservatives will keep talking, the British voting public has long stopped listening.

Yup, totally agree. It doesn’t matter what Sunak says any more, once the confidence has been lost reasonable sounding policies are met with cynicism, as we have seen on this very site.

Bryan Dale
Bryan Dale
20 days ago
Reply to  Robbie K

Even worse, the Conservatives on their deathbed still can’t come up with reasonable sounding policies.

Andrew Wise
Andrew Wise
20 days ago
Reply to  Robbie K

I’m waiting for them to announce the reintroduction of the death penalty.

Phil Day
Phil Day
20 days ago
Reply to  Robbie K

Reasonable or not who in their right mind believes the Tories will do what they say even if they do win?

Pedro the Exile
Pedro the Exile
21 days ago

Reform, whose diet of incoherent reheated Thatcherisms is barely an improvement on the Conservatives’ offering,
Cheap,nasty,lazy sloganeering masquerading as journalism and research-

Charlie Dibsdale
Charlie Dibsdale
21 days ago

Did you produce a piece stating the bl***g obvious, just to get a cheap jibe in about Reform?

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
20 days ago

Fortunately, I’m going to be out of the country for most of the campaign.

Phil Day
Phil Day
20 days ago

Wish I could be out of the country period – trouble is, where to go?

Jake Raven
Jake Raven
20 days ago

Labour will need to change its fossil fuel strategy to win big in Scotland, and it needs Scotland to win big.
I disagree with the analysis of Reforms policies, they are more coherent than Labour’s and Conservative’s and are exactly what right of centre voters want to hear.

Jonathan Nash
Jonathan Nash
20 days ago

I think this time will be worse for the losing party than either 1979 or 1997. This time it is not about the two bases remaining solid; and the floating voters moving sharply in one direction. This time one of the bases has disintegrated. Sub-100 seats for the Tories is a real possibility now, and boy do they deserve it.

Phil Day
Phil Day
20 days ago

As a boomer and life long conservative voter I can confirm that I decided how l was going to vote some time ago and I will not be changing my mind.
Used to be the Tories could be trusted as gatekeepers who would prevent the excesses of labour from doing too much damage but the current bunch of lying imposters, these self-identifying fake conservatives have gone out of their way to destroy or undermine almost everything that made this country special.
Having been betrayed in such a big way it should be no surprise that I now want to see the current Tory party completely eradicated. I doubt that l’m alone in holding this position.

Michael Clarke
Michael Clarke
19 days ago

Very good piece.