Guardian News and Media/London
Conservative members and activists are likely to abandon the party in vast numbers in the European parliament elections in favour of Nigel Farage’s Brexit party, two surveys have suggested.
A questionnaire of party members for the ConservativeHome website found 62% were planning to vote for the Brexit party if the European elections went ahead in the UK in May as expected, and only 23% intended to vote for their own party.
Separately, a poll of Conservative councillors by Survation for the Mail on Sunday found 40% were planning to vote for the Brexit party, and only 52% for the party they represent in local government.
Ministers have claimed the European elections could still be cancelled if MPs approved the Brexit agreement first, but parliament would also have to pass the withdrawal agreement legislation before May 23 and at Westminster it is widely assumed that even if Theresa May found a surprise majority for a deal there is no realistic chance of her meeting this timetable.
Polls published last week showed the Brexit party was on course for victory at the European elections, with the Tories heading for third place behind Labour. If Theresa May is struggling to maintain the loyalty of her own members and councillors, then non-member supporters might be even more inclined to defect.
ConservativeHome regularly publishes surveys of what party members think that in the past have served as broadly accurate guides to how members end up voting in internal elections, but Paul Goodman, a former Tory MP and the editor of ConservativeHome, said the results released yesterday were “the most astonishing we have ever published”.
In a commentary, he said there were four reasons why almost two-thirds of members might be willing to abandon their party in May: “sheer anger” at the Brexit delay; a belief that the European elections do not matter; a sense that voting for the Brexit party is respectable because it is less extreme than Ukip; and the hope that a terrible result could prompt May to resign.
The Survation survey also suggests May’s leadership is a problem for Tory councillors. Only about half of them said they were planning to vote Conservative at the European elections, but that rose to 65% if Boris Johnson were party leader, with only 22% saying they would vote for the Brexit party in those circumstances.
Survation also found 43% of Conservative councillors believed May should resign now, with 33% saying she should go after a Brexit deal has passed and only 21% saying she should stay.
Survation questioned 781 Conservative councillors for its survey, while the ConservativeHome exercise involved responses from 1,132 members.
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