How would Britons react to a Tory-Reform merger?

Matthew SmithHead of Data Journalism
June 21, 2024, 1:19 PM GMT+0

Many Britons would be pleased to see the Conservatives heavily defeated, but they would also be unhappy if this meant the party was surpassed by or merged with Reform UK

The Conservatives have struck on the idea that a large Labour victory is offputting to significant numbers of voters. Dubbing such an outcome a Labour ‘supermajority’ – a technical term in other countries’ parliamentary systems but not one which has relevance in the UK House of Commons – the Tories have been pushing their warning on social media and on the airwaves that Keir Starmer would be unaccountable in the absence of a significant opposition party.

However, the results of a new YouGov survey show that four in ten Britons (43%) would react positively to a very large Labour majority, while only a third would react negatively (33%) – a further 15% would not mind either way.

Unsurprisingly, 93% of current Labour voters would feel positively about this event, but so too would 8% of current Tory voters. In fact, with a further 12% of those currently intending to back the Conservatives saying they would react neither positively nor negatively to a Labour landslide, fully one in five of those currently backing Sunak’s party would not be upset by their main rivals dominating the election result.

While the Conservatives might be warning of a large Labour victory, the most upsetting election outcome for the public would be the Tories winning a large majority. Fully 61% of Britons would react negatively in this eventuality, with only 16% being pleased.

Indeed, 13% of current Tory voters would also be upset by a major Conservative victory, while a further 14% would be ambivalent, meaning more than quarter of those backing the party would not be please to see them win a significant victory against the odds.

Among those who voted Conservative in 2019, four in ten (40%) would now be unhappy to see them win a large majority.

Many would be pleased by a substantial Conservative defeat, but are wary of the rise of Reform UK

The most pleasing scenario of the ten we put to the public is the prospect of the Conservatives only winning a small number of seats. Half (47%) would react positively to such news, while only 22% would be unhappy about a major Conservative defeat – 21% would be indifferent.

Again, we can see that even among those who intend to vote for Rishi Sunak’s party there are those who would not mind an electoral drubbing. One in eight current Tory voters (12%) would be happy to see the Tories lose badly, while another 18% would be neither happy nor unhappy.

Likewise, half of 2019 Conservative voters would be pleased by (25%) or indifferent to (27%) a major Tory loss.

By contrast, 74% of Labour voters would be pleased to see the Conservatives taking a battering.

But should they be careful what they wish for? Nigel Farage has spoken previously of his desire to force a merger of his Reform UK party and the Conservatives, in a similar mould to Canada in 1993 when the Canadian Alliance (formerly known as the Reform Party, a fact that Farage says is not a coincidence) and the Progressive Conservatives merged after a historic defeat for the latter in that year’s elections. The 2024 general election – with the Conservatives on course for a pasting, and Reform UK with all the momentum in the media – may provide an opportune moment for Farage to implement his plan.

A Conservative-Reform merger would be displeasing to half of the public: 50% if the new party was led by a former Conservative and 48% if it were led by Farage. Slightly more than a third (37-39%) would either be pleased or neutral about such a merger.

Among those who backed the Conservatives in 2019, most (54-57%) would either be happy or at least unbothered by a merger. Half of those who intend to back the party this year (51%) would react negatively to a merger in the event that the resulting party were led by Nigel Farage, but this falls to 36% in the event the reins are taken up by one of the current Conservatives.

The prospect of the Conservatives being organically supplanted by Reform UK, as the Liberals were by Labour in the 1920s and 30s, is likewise something that Britons would not relish. Half (48%) would react negatively to Reform UK replacing the Conservatives in the years following the election as the UK’s main right wing party, compared to 22% who would react positively and 17% who would be neutral.

Looking to the shorter term, a similar 46% would be upset were Reform UK set to take 20-30 seats – an unlikely proposition currently, with our latest MRP suggesting the party is on course to win only five (although this in itself would still be a breakthrough for Farage).

Other party scenarios

Another party that looks like it could be on course for a major defeat is the SNP. Our MRP shows the Scottish nationalists falling back to 20 seats, although the situation in Scotland is especially marginal, with sixteen seats in the country currently listed as ‘tossups’, and the SNP could fall as far as 11 seats in our lower bound estimate for them.

In the event that the SNP did only win a small number of seats, Britons are twice as likely to be positive (32%) as negative (15%) about that. A further 37% are not emotional either way. Scots are more torn – 38% would be happy but 37% negative, amid a reduced indifference level of 17%.

Were the Greens to achieve a breakthrough at this election, winning 20-30 seats, then more Britons would feel positively about that (40%) than negatively (27%). A further 21% have no strong feelings either way.

Despite concerns that the Greens are stealing Labour voters on issues like Gaza, 60% of current Labour voters would be pleased to see the Greens establishing a larger foothold in the Commons, as would 67% of Lib Dem voters.

One of the more farfetched outcomes of the election that have been speculated has been that the Conservative losses would be so dire that they would fall into third place behind the Liberal Democrats. Were the Lib Dems to become the official opposition, 39% of Britons would be pleased, 27% displeased and 22% neutral. Unsurprisingly the idea is most welcome among Lib Dem voters themselves, 86% of whom would react positively. Perhaps part of the reason they would be pleased is because it confirms their man Ed Davey would not be prime minister – a recent YouGov poll found that Lib Dem voters do not actually tend to prefer him as PM over Keir Starmer.

See the full results here

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Photo: Getty