People who vote Reform will get the opposite of what they want

Keir Starmer
Keir Starmer

Appearing on radio recently, a presenter put it to the deputy leader of Reform that, “the Labour majority will be bigger the more votes Reform get and you’re happy with that?” And the answer came back: “Yeah.”

The Conservative Party, for whom I am standing as a candidate in West Suffolk, undoubtedly has a Reform problem. Before the election was called, the centre-Right vote was split, with dissatisfied voters saying they were unlikely to support the Tories. Since the election was called, the polls suggest the divide has grown worse. The result, as the radio presenter put it, is likely to be a Labour majority – and perhaps an enormous one.

There are many explanations for this. A glance around the world shows that incumbent governments have struggled with the realities of life after Covid. The huge injections of cash into economies during lockdown, made worse by the war in Ukraine and the resulting energy crunch, have driven inflation across the West.

The cumulative effects of slow economic growth since the Great Financial Crash – itself the result of economic problems that had been hidden in the years before – and changing demographics have also developed into something significant. Rising demand for health, social care and pensions spending is squeezing budgets for other services. Consider, for example, an important problem written off as unsexy by policy wonks: county councils are responsible for road maintenance and fixing potholes, yet they are also struggling with growing demand for adult social care services and special educational needs.

These structural problems – together with political and policy errors of the Government’s own making, such as the absurdly liberal post-Brexit immigration system – have undoubtedly caused dissatisfaction across the Conservative electoral coalition. On the doorsteps, of course there are some Conservative-to-Labour switchers. But the bigger story is about the still-significant number of voters saying they are yet to make up their minds, and those who are wavering between the Conservatives and Reform.

According to a recent MRP poll produced by YouGov, Labour are on course to win 425 seats out of a total of 650. Yet in 134 of them, Labour’s vote share is lower than the combined total for the Conservatives and Reform. If the Tories manage to squeeze the Reform vote – something they have struggled to do so far – YouGov suggests they could double the number of seats they win.

Those who are tempted by Reform are likely to end up horrified by what they get. Already, some voters are expressing concern about comments made by Nigel Farage about who is culpable for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. During a BBC interview with Nick Robinson last week, Farage claimed, “we provoked this war”. Some years ago, Farage was asked which world leader he most admired, and his answer was Vladimir Putin. “The way he played the whole Syria thing,” Farage said, was “brilliant”. That, to be clear, was Putin’s intervention in the civil war to prop up the murderous Assad regime, which had used chemical weapons against civilians and continues to support terrorism.

Under a Labour government, voters who opt for Reform to punish the Tories are going to get things many times worse on the issues they care about. Some are frustrated by the burden of tax, for example. But even with the tax rises Sir Keir Starmer has admitted, Labour will take the sums collected by the Exchequer to their highest level ever recorded. If Labour press ahead with an emergency budget this Autumn, they may use it to rinse ordinary families with a succession of tax hikes. Among the plans are wealth taxes including a lifetime gift allowance, taxing parents who help their children onto the property ladder with a contribution to the deposit.

There will be a similar story with immigration. The numbers coming to Britain have been too high under the Tories, but Labour will scrap the Rwanda scheme, entrench the human rights laws that make it so difficult to remove illegal immigrants and foreign criminals, and hurriedly grant asylum to the Channel crossers already in Britain. Their answer to illegal immigration is, in effect, to make it legal by creating what they euphemistically call “safe and legal routes” from safe European countries. And there is not a single visa route where they have not advocated for more legal immigration.

While many are frustrated that the Tories have not been robust enough on culture wars, Labour will take things to a whole new level. This weekend, Bridget Philipson, the Shadow Education Secretary, said she would not proceed with the new guidance for schools that bans the teaching of radical gender ideology. Labour have promised new race equality laws to artificially reduce the number of school exclusions, give government contracts to “black firms” regardless of merit, and stop ministers revoking the citizenship of terrorists.

And Labour plan to enshrine Left-wing policies and power structures in law. Their manifesto commits to the enactment of a legal duty on all public bodies to reduce inequality, which would effectively dictate that the whole public sector must redistribute and spend more on groups said to be the victims of inequality. The culture and structures established by New Labour legislation – the Human Rights and Equality Acts – will be models Starmer will use to make his policies permanent. Votes for sixteen-year-olds and for foreign nationals will be a naked attempt to skew future elections Labour’s way.

Then, of course, there is the drum beat, already building, for new integration with the European Union. It will start with aligned rules, perhaps move to a de facto customs union, before reaching a full debate on re-entry to the single market and perhaps even the EU itself. This was, after all, what Starmer sought to engineer in the years immediately after the referendum.

None of this is what those considering voting for Reform want. But it is what they are likely to get if they vote to punish the Tories. However understandable their frustrations, this election cannot just be a referendum on events since 2019. It is also a choice about our future. Those with conservative values must take care not to make matters irretrievably worse.

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