Tories reeling from ‘catastrophic’ election poll forecast

Estimated read time 5 min read

The Conservatives are reeling from a “catastrophic” exit poll that projected they would win just 131 seats, the party’s worst election result since it was founded.

Rishi Sunak’s party is forecast to lose 241 seats overnight with Labour winning a massive 170-seat majority, according to the exit poll for the BBC, ITV and Sky.

Tory grandees and candidates said the projection was an “incredible rejection” of their party that called for major change. The former party leader William Hague said it would be a “catastrophic result in historic terms” if borne out.

The exit poll kickstarted a debate on the future of the Conservative party, with some grandees calling for it to swing to the right and even suggesting it could work with Nigel Farage’s insurgent Reform UK party.

The former business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg said the Conservative party “took its core vote for granted” and that it had been wrong for Tory MPs to oust Boris Johnson when he had been elected by the country. “Failing to deliver on Conservative core principles did us a lot of harm,” he told the BBC.

Asked whether he thought the Tories should have sought to join forces with Farage, Rees-Mogg said: “We are where we are and the disaster doesn’t seem to have been averted. You’ll have to ask Nigel what his plans are. I think he looks for and seeks a realignment of the right in British politics, and it will be interesting to see whether he can achieve that.”

Andrea Leadsom, a health minister and former leadership candidate, said the Tories had been wrong not to fight harder against Reform UK, which was projected to win 13 seats and come second in a host of constituencies.

Other senior figures argued that the Conservatives had to reclaim the centre ground. The former chancellor George Osborne said working with Reform would be a “disastrous route to go down”.

He added: “If this [the exit poll] is right, there will be Reform MPs and there will be a huge conversation and argument inside the Conservative party, which is if we could merge with Reform, and then we can come back … I think that’s a disastrous route for the Tories to go down, but it is going to be the conversation.”

Jo Johnson, the Tory peer and universities minister, told the BBC it was a mistake for the Conservatives to try to be “Reform lite” and that the results suggested the party was at risk of “being drummed out of the capital of this country”.

He added: “That’s a terrible indictment of their appeal to metropolitan, open-minded liberal voters … What future is there for a party that is going to abandon our big metropolitan centres?”

Robert Buckland, the former justice secretary who has been seeking re-election in Swindon South, told Sky News his party had a “long road” ahead of it.

“We did not have a compelling offer to younger, aspirational people who want to own their own home, who want to have a stake in our society, who want to believe in a future that is more hopeful than the past,” he said.

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Buckland lost his Swindon South seat with a 16% swing to Labour’s Heidi Alexander, who previously served as a Labour MP between 2010 and 2018.

In a swipe at Reform UK and the Tory right, Buckland said politics faced a choice: “Do we value those who work to bring people together … or do we shrug our shoulders and accept that politics are a mere circus where people compete for attention?” he said. “My party has to make the right choice.”

The former defence minister James Heappey said he thought the final number of Tory seats by Friday morning would be lower than 131. “This is an incredible rejection of what Brandon [Lewis] and our colleagues have delivered in government over the last five years,” he told GB News.

“And every single one of us, whether we think that we were part of the various cliques that brought down one prime minister or another, whichever wing of the party we’re on: if anybody is sat there watching this tonight as a Conservative member of parliament from 2019 to 2024 and saying: ‘Nothing to do with me, guv,’ they’re kind of missing the point.”

Asked who was to blame for the defeat, Hague told Times Radio: “The Conservative party would be making a big mistake if it thought it could just conveniently blame one person – even Liz Truss … when it has to understand that it will have to really change a lot.”

The former minister Steve Baker told BBC News: “There will be undoubtedly recriminations, there will be shock, there will be anger, denial.” He added that Sunak would be “reflecting on whether his role might be to be there for a while to get us through the recriminations phase”, but that it was a “matter for him”.


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