Sunak warned against ‘playing footsie’ with Farage and Reform UK

Rishi Sunak has been warned against “playing footsie” with Reform UK following two bruising by-election defeats.

The Prime Minister has been urged by some in his party to shift further to the right to see off the threat of the Nigel Farage-linked party.

It comes after the losses to Labour in Wellingborough and Kingswood alongside signs of growing support for Reform UK, which some Tory MPs see as a challenger at the next general election.

Rishi Sunak visit to Harlow Police Station – Essex
The Conservatives highlighted the low turnout in both contests (Dan Kitwood/PA)

“And I think that one of the problems at the moment is that the Conservative Party is all over the place and there are bits of it that I don’t really identify with traditional conservatism.

“The assault on institutions, the refusal to accept that attacking courts, lefty lawyers, or the rule of law, is not the way a Conservative Party should behave.”

Lord Patten added: “I think the Conservative Party is deluding itself if it thinks it can behave like this and still go on and win an election.”

The Oxford University chancellor and peer warned his party against chasing would-be Reform voters in the wake of the by-election defeats.

He said: “When you look at the fall in the Conservative vote in those by-elections, it was awful.

“And the real danger of those results for the Conservative Party is because of the Reform Party getting 10% people will start saying, ‘oh well if we appeal to the Reform Party, we can just add their 10% to ours’.

“That is complete drivel. If the Conservative Party starts playing footsie with the Reform Party it won’t stand a prayer of winning the next election.”

POLITICS ByElections
(PA Graphics)

“There’s no doubt that these by-elections were set against a very difficult backdrop.

“I was in Kingswood myself a few weeks ago, I saw the excellent candidate in the campaign on the ground.

“But actually if you look at it, if you look at for example, Reform’s vote, which people have been talking about this week, what comes across to me is it’s very clear that a vote for Reform is actually a vote to let Labour in,” he told the BBC.

The Prime Minister, who had sought to play down the losses as “difficult” mid-term elections, has called on right-wing and Conservative voters to unite to keep Sir Keir Starmer out of Number 10.

Newly elected Labour MP Gen Kitchen (centre) surrounded by Labour party supporters after being declared winner in the Wellingborough by-election
Newly elected Labour MP Gen Kitchen surrounded by Labour party supporters after being declared winner in the Wellingborough by-election (Joe Giddens/PA)

Meanwhile, the Kingswood vote came after former Conservative MP Chris Skidmore resigned in protest against Government legislation to boost North Sea oil and gas drilling.

The Conservatives highlighted the low turnout in both contests, which stood at just 37% in Kingswood and 38% in Wellingborough.

But Labour overturned majorities of 11,220 and 18,540 respectively, delivering the Government’s ninth and 10th by-election defeats of the current Parliament and securing its second-largest swing from the Tories ever.

Former Labour leader Neil Kinnock earlier said he was confident the party would win the next general election.

“I’m convinced now that we’re not going to lose,” Lord Kinnock told Sky News.

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