Almost half of Tory members want party to merge with Reform, poll reveals

By The Guardian (World News) | Created at 2024-07-10 11:55:29 | Updated at 2024-07-21 20:11:29 1 week ago
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Almost half of Conservative grassroots members are in favour of a merger with Nigel Farage’s Reform UK, according to a poll, with Kemi Badenoch the favourite to be the next party leader.

Data gathered by YouGov since the general election shows the former business secretary, who is said to have been a significant critic of Rishi Sunak’s decision to call a summer general election, has twice the grassroots support of Suella Braverman, the hardline former home secretary, and Tom Tugendhat, the former security minister who is the frontrunner from the party’s centre-right.

Badenoch has support from 31% of those polled for the Party Members Project, run by researchers at Queen Mary, University of London and Sussex University.

Others who have been touted as potential leaders have minimal support from party members – Priti Patel gains just 6% and Robert Jenrick, who has attracted a slew of names in support from the party’s right, has about 7% support.

James Cleverly, the former home secretary who is said to be contemplating a bid to present himself as a unity candidate, would be backed by 10% of the party, according to the poll.

A fifth of Conservative members polled said they would most prefer to see the return of Boris Johnson to lead the party and 10% said they would like the party to be led by Farage.

Braverman is the only potential leadership candidate who has suggested the Tories should seek an accommodation with Farage and the hard-right Reform UK.

Of those surveyed, 47% of Conservative members said they were in favour of a merger, with support strongest among the over-50s and those from lower-income backgrounds.

Cleverly has called for the Conservative party to unite in opposition, as the party heads into what is likely to be a bitter leadership campaign.

Writing in the Times, he said: “There is strength in unity, and the Conservative party has always been at its best when it embraces being a broad church. We lost voters to the left and the right, and we won’t win them all back if we narrow our offer.”

Badenoch reportedly told her shadow cabinet colleagues at their first meeting on Tuesday that Sunak’s decision to call an early election without informing them had been “disastrous” and bordering on unconstitutional.

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She also said Braverman appeared to be having a “very public” breakdown, after controversial public comments by the former home secretary. Two allies of Braverman on the right of the party – Danny Kruger and Sir John Hayes – are now said to be backing Jenrick’s leadership bid.

Tory veteran Bob Blackman was elected as head of the powerful 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers on Tuesday night, and will be responsible for helping set the rules of the leadership election.

Blackman suggested on Wednesday he was inclining towards a longer contest, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think we’ve got to take time to reflect on the fact that we were beaten in the election, and we need to decide, as you say, which direction we choose.”

But Mark Francois, a Conservative MP on the party’s right, hit out at how the vote for the 1922 Committee chair had been conducted, and said several colleagues had missed the vote. “You can’t start our parliamentary year in opposition with an election that was chaotic,” he told GB News.

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