Skip to main content

Why Reform might not shake up the polls… yet

Polling Booth
05 April 2024
Public Affairs
local elections

The rise of Reform in the UK is the hot topic on every political commentator’s lips, particularly since the party began reaching record high levels of support in the opinion polls and the defection of Lee Anderson following his suspension from the Conservative Party. Indeed, speculation became reality when Reform took 13% of the vote share in the Wellingborough by-election in February – a battle that saw the Tories knocked off the top spot and Labour’s Gen Kitchen ushered in as the town’s next MP.

But what does this mean for the local elections in May? It’s important to note that by-elections are often an opportunity for voters to express dissatisfaction with the incumbent party, so comparing the upcoming local elections to recent parliamentary elections in the likes of Wellingborough and Rochdale could be remiss.

Reform is also a party with a limited local presence. Whilst there are approximately 17,000 councillors in England, only nine represent Reform UK. And get this – all nine defected from other parties, rather than being elected on a Reform ticket. It’s no surprise then that Reform’s local election campaigning wheels are also far less well oiled than the likes of Lib Dems and the Greens, who have made a noticeable impact locally in recent years despite remaining in the shadows on a national level.

There is also the matter of Reform UK’s target voter. It’s well documented that many of the party’s supporters are disengaged from traditional politics. And whilst they have seemingly been re-engaged politically ahead of this year’s General Election, we often see only the most engaged of the electorate coming out to vote in the local elections, with turnout typically hovering at around just 30%.

Turning to the Mayoral elections also taking place this May, Reform hit the headlines again last month when the Conservative candidate for Greater Manchester, Dan Barker defected to the party, stating that it represents “the ordinary people of this country”. It’s no question though that this is to be a one-horse race for Labour’s Andy Burnham. It will be more interesting to see how things play out in the West Midlands and the Tees Valley, where just a small shift to Reform UK by red wall turned blue voters could help further undermine the Conservative vote and see Labour come out on top.

That is likely to be the story at the General Election, which will be the true test for Reform UK. Although the first-past-the-post system will do no favours for the party in terms of gaining seats, it’s no secret that the Conservatives are expecting a grim night at the polls later this year and that Reform has a role to play. Indeed, it will be interesting to see how Reform impacts the local picture in years to come, particularly if buoyed by relative success at this year’s General Election.