The Conservatives are accelerating preparations for the next election, with support for Reform UK soaring, angering Conservative Tory supporters.
Conservative headquarters is “significantly” stepping up efforts to attract new donations and is about to start hiring campaign managers.
A poll by People Polling, published on Friday, showed that support for Reform UK – the successor to the Brexit Party – had risen to eight per cent. While the party is unlikely to take any seats from the Tories, it could draw votes away at key margins, meaning they are shifting to Labour.
Richard Tice, its leader, said he had been in contact with several Conservative backbenchers about fleeing the next election.
Tory MPs have expressed concern that those who voted for them in 2019 will turn to reform as the Conservatives “failed” to deal with immigration.
Rishi Sunak is set to hold an away cabinet at Checkers this week to brainstorm strategies for the next election. Pollsters will present the prime minister and his team with the latest polls, which are expected to paint a bleak picture, especially on the other side of the Red Wall.
But Conservative sources are optimistic about turning things around, with one saying the party will regain public opinion by focusing on “things that matter.” “The plan is to deliver on the Prime Minister’s promises and carry out the campaign,” the source said.
The Telegraph understands that the government is also preparing a new crackdown on small boat crossings in an attempt to win over Red Wall voters.
Peter Gibson MP for Darlington said it would be crucial to get the Channel crossings under control.
“We need to see the Home Office making decisions much faster, we need to see visible signs of repatriation. We must clearly put an end to people crossing the English Channel and ensure our right to stay here because if they came here illegally, they shouldn’t be here.”
He added that MPs should campaign hard for the benefits of the promotion, and that the Red Wall “could not have a greater champion than the current prime minister.”
But some backbenchers warned Mr Sunak he needed to take the threat of Reform UK more seriously, pointing to David Cameron’s underestimation of UKIP.
Lord Hayward, a leading Tory pollster, said the prime minister was right to prioritize immigration and tackling inflation if he was to stave off the threat from the right-wing party.
“Of course it will have an impact if they continue to poll even at these levels, partly because it will upset and distract the Conservative Party,” he said. “It is not yet clear what stake in the reform he would actually have if the cross-channel issue in particular was moved forward.”