Minister admits 'hard fight ahead' as poll suggests 'Tory extinction' - but says no deal to be done with Farage

16 June 2024, 10:24

Mark Harper has admitted there is a 'hard fight ahead' for the Conservatives to win the election
Mark Harper has admitted there is a 'hard fight ahead' for the Conservatives to win the election. Picture: LBC/Getty

By Kit Heren

Transport Secretary Mark Harper has admitted that the Conservatives have a "hard fight ahead" at the General Election, but said that his party should not be seeking to make a deal with Nigel Farage.

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Mr Harper told LBC's Lewis Goodall that a poll that projected the Conservatives would win just 72 seats - which would be by far their worst result in a General Election - should "concentrate people's minds".

According to analysis by pollsters Survation's of 40,000 surveys, Labour are ahead in 456 seats, which if borne out on July 4, would give Sir Keir Starmer's party a majority of 262.

Asked about the poll, Mr Harper said: "First of all, apart from a very small number of postal voters, nobody's actually cast a vote in this election.

"And I think it's not sensible to take voters for granted on the basis of polls, and... we are fighting for every single vote.

"But I think, look, the polls actually do tell us something important, which is, if they're right... and if people that have previously voted Conservative vote for Reform, or one of the other smaller parties, anyone other than the Conservatives, and Labour get a very large majority, they'll have the power to do whatever they like."

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Mr Harper warned that Labour would increase taxes if they were in power because "there's a big black hole in their finances".

Analysts have expressed scepticism about costings in both the Labour and Conservative manifestos, which were released this week.

Labour have said they will seek to raise £8.6 billion in tax mostly by closing non-dom loopholes, charging private schools more tax and by levying a windfall tax on oil and gas companies. But they have also denied plans to raise other taxes, despite Conservative attacks.

Several prominent MPs on the right of the party have suggested that the Conservatives should welcome Reform UK leader Mr Farage into the party, including former Home Secretary Suella Braverman.

Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak. Picture: Getty

Asked if the Conservatives should be looking to do a deal with Mr Farage, Mr Harper said: "No - I think we should be making arguments, though, to try and win over those voters that are currently thinking about voting Reform.

"So if you voted Conservative in 2019, [and] you're currently thinking about voting Reform. I suspect you want lower taxes, you want immigration reduced - and there are only two people that can be Prime Minister on July 5 - either Keir Starmer or Rishi Sunak."

Mr Farage has said he would lead a merged centre-right party. Reform's deputy leader Ben Habib told LBC on Saturday that he would not welcome Mr Farage joining the Tories.

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Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak. Picture: Getty

If, as projected in the Survation poll, the Tories won 72 seats, it would be less than half as good as their previous worst election, when they had 156 MPs after the 1906 election. They won 365 seats in the 2019 vote. Survation's projection had the Liberal Democrats on 56 seats, the SNP on 37, and Reform UK on seven.

Mr Harper said: "We need to fight for every vote. We mustn't take the voters for granted. We have got a hard fight on I absolutely accept that.

"That's why... I know every single Conservative activist and member is out fighting for every vote. And the Prime Minister and members of the Cabinet are up for that fight and are doing that and will continue doing so until the polls close on July 4."

In its interpretation of the findings, Survation said: "Since Farage's announcement to take over as leader of Reform UK, we've seen a rise in their vote share in national polling, and now we are seeing how this can result in seat gains.

"Unsurprisingly, Reform are making significant gains in places where the Conservatives are losing the most, and are currently the leading party by vote share in seven seats. Reform are also currently performing better than the Conservatives in 59 seats."

The Survation study for campaign group Best For Britain used the multilevel with poststratification (MRP) technique to model results in constituencies. Survation polled 42,269 people online or over the telephone between May 31 and June 13.

It is the first MRP analysis since Nigel Farage returned to the political frontline.

Keir Starmer
Keir Starmer. Picture: Getty

A separate poll also suggests bad news for the Conservatives.

The Savanta study for the Sunday Telegraph gave Labour a 25-point lead, with Sir Keir Starmer's party on 46%, up two from last week, and the Tories on 21%, down four points.

It is the lowest share that the Conservatives have had with the pollster under Mr Sunak.

Chris Hopkins, political research director at Savanta, said: "Our research suggests that this election could be nothing short of electoral extinction for the Conservative Party.

"The hopes of Conservative candidates are being shot to pieces by poll after poll showing the Conservative Party in increasingly dire straits - and we're only halfway through the campaign.

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"There's a real sense that things could still get worse for the Conservatives, and with postal votes about to drop through millions of letterboxes, time is already close to running out for Rishi Sunak."

Reform UK were on 13%, up three points, the Liberal Democrats up two points on 11%, the Greens up one point on 5% and the SNP down one on 2%.

Savanta surveyed 2,045 UK adults from June 12-14.

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