Senior Tories: Trump-style takeover could cause party meltdown

The Conservative Party is at risk of a political meltdown in its heartlands due to a potential “Trumpian style takeover” from the right, according to senior Tories. Concerns are growing that a tilt to the right and anger over the handling of Brexit could lead to the party’s support collapsing in liberal, home counties seats, in the same way that Labour imploded in Scotland in 2015. Prominent Conservatives from across the party are increasingly concerned about a backlash among liberal Tories after a week in which figures on the right of the party championed Boris Johnson and accused Rishi Sunak of backtracking on Brexit, while the home secretary, Suella Braverman, openly denounced “experts and elites”.

Former cabinet minister Matt Hancock warned that “the Conservative party is finished if it succumbs to a Trumpian-style takeover”. He added that “these Conservative Corbynistas are as destructive to the Tories as leftwing activists were to Labour”. Hancock urged the liberal conservative majority to stand up for the centre ground to ensure this rightwing takeover does not succeed. He argued that moderates cannot let these extreme voices and divisive arguments win the debate or claim the soul of the party. They are not only wrong and deeply unattractive but bad for political discourse and the country. If the party decides that’s what it’s going to stand for, it will be a massive mistake.

Concerns are growing that long-term Tory supporters in pro-Remain, liberal constituencies may abandon the party. Jeremy Hunt’s constituency, South West Surrey, is already being targeted by the Lib Dems, who are running local leaflets highlighting rising bills, increased mortgage costs and the falling value of savings. New analysis has increased fears of a blue wall crisis. The 2023 local election Tory vote share in more Remain wards was far below what the party achieved under David Cameron, according to research by Robert Ford, professor of political science at the University of Manchester. Conservative votes in 2023 were down almost 14 points on their performance in 2015 in the most Remain wards.

It is causing panic among some Tories. “I’m more worried about the blue wall than anything,” said one former cabinet minister. “I really think there’s a chance that what happened to Labour in Scotland in 2015 could happen to us in the blue wall at the next election. What are we offering these voters now? Their taxes are getting ever higher and the government isn’t doing a lot for them. We have seen what has happened in the past, where a party can just have a meltdown. Last time, we were saved because those voters were so concerned about the threat of [Jeremy] Corbyn. But that is no longer the case. Many of them didn’t vote for Brexit, which has now been done badly.”

The former deputy prime minister, Lord Heseltine, said his party was now heading to lose the next election and would require a complete rebuild in the wake of defeat. “At the moment, the party is tearing itself apart,” he said. “It was Rab Butler who rebuilt the party after the 1945 defeat, with a completely new party, policy and philosophy. The party knew it had to win power. The same thing is going to happen after this next election.”

Ed Vaizey, the former minister and Tory peer, warned that a lurch to the right could allow Labour to dominate for years. “We have been here before,” he wrote. “After our defeat in 1997, so many Conservatives blamed the outcome on our party not being Conservative enough. It was a long and hard struggle to get the party back to the mainstream, and to re-learn the lesson that you only win in politics by looking forward, not back. You actually have to like the country in which you live and want to make it better, in order for the public to want to back you. Harking back to a golden age, with a wish-list of policies that are completely absurd in a modern, developed nation, is for the birds.”

Robert Ford, professor of political science at the University of Manchester, said that while caution should be taken before applying local election findings to a general election, there was a significant threat to the Conservatives in blue wall seats. “There have been large swings against the Conservatives in many quintessentially home counties seats – for example, the party’s vote fell in most of the seats in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Oxfordshire and Surrey,” he said. “If what I’ve noticed in the local election results translates into a general election, it is a real problem. You see the same kind of proportional swing dynamics in 2023 that we saw hitting the Liberal Democrats in 2015, or hitting Scottish Labour in 2015 – or going further back, hitting the Conservatives in 1997. That is a really dangerous scenario where the stronger you start, the further you fall. When that happens, no one is safe.”