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20 June 2024

Measuring the Tory meltdown

Polling figures predicting Conservative obliteration matter because they change parties’ behaviour.

By Freddie Hayward

The Tories are kaput. Finished. Done. Dead. At least, according to the polls. A blitz of bad news hit Tory HQ last night. Three MRPs – big, sophisticated polls that work on a seat-by-seat basis – put them on the threshold of extinction. More in Common had the Conservatives on 155 seats; YouGov predicted 108; while Savanta gave the Tories a dismal 53 seats. Thoughts below.

Forget the individual numbers: the large increase in marginal seats and the models’ different assumptions explain their variation. Slight changes in Labour’s vote could shift its majority from large to historic – and vice versa. But the trends are clear. The Tories face irrelevance. Reform is climbing. Labour is poised to assume power after 14 years.

Again, these polling figures matter because they change parties’ behaviour. The Tories are in retreat, grabbing anything they can get their hands on to fling at Labour. Times analysis shows Rishi Sunak is defending – ie spending time campaigning in – seats with bigger and bigger majorities. The average Conservative majority in the seats he has been visiting during the past ten days is 14,317 – a number that should in normal times guarantee victory.

At the same time, the Tories’ online campaign is leaning into the absurd. Their X account promoted a meme yesterday suggesting Keir Starmer’s weak diplomatic style was the reason Vladimir Putin was visiting Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang. Later on, they tweeted a gif of a roulette table, claiming a vote for Labour could result only in more taxes or debt. At which point, news dropped that another Conservative candidate had placed a bet on there being an early election, and is being investigated by the gambling regulator. This morning we learn the candidate’s partner is the Conservative director of campaigning. On the chaos goes.

No wonder Nigel Farage is gleeful. Several polls have come out now suggesting he could win in Clacton, a result that would give him a pulpit in the primary political arena. He’s set expectations low from the start, saying that Reform’s aim is to collect votes, not seats. Still, a beachhead in the House of Commons would help him influence the forthcoming Conservative leadership election. There are splits emerging between the different candidates and support for Farage will become a test of the candidates’ right-wing bona fides, in the same way that support for Trump separates the Republican Party into two irreconcilable camps.

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As Andrew points out, if Sunak had only waited until the autumn, then Farage would’ve been preoccupied with the US election. Instead, the Tories are drifting into the background as Farage consumes more attention from the media – and more votes from the public.

This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; receive it every morning by subscribing on Substack here.

[See also: How to fix a nation]

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