UK Wipeout Would Leave Tories Still Divided, Analysis Shows

(Bloomberg) -- Britain’s general election may only prolong the fierce ideological debate that has consumed the Conservative Party during their 14 years in power, even if they suffer the worst-case defeats forecast by some pollsters.

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The Conservative Party that emerges from Thursday’s nationwide vote will likely retain a similar split between centrists and right-wingers as it had before, according to a Bloomberg analysis of public election forecast data. There were some indications that moderates could slightly increase their influence within the parliamentary party, although the debate over how to win back supporters of Nigel Farage’s Reform UK is expected to preoccupy any Tories who win seats.

The analysis relied on data from eight so-called MRP surveys by pollsters including Ipsos, Savanta and YouGov that show the left-leaning Labour Party on track for a historic majority in excess of 150 seats in the 650-seat House of Commons. Large sample-sizes in those polls, which use demographic data and statistical modeling to project results by constituency, show the Conservatives left with somewhere from 50 to 150 seats.

There were 80 seats for which more than half of the eight polls predicted a Conservative victory. Of those winners, 67 would be returning members of Parliament.

The threat of such a rout has fueled a charged debate between moderate Conservatives and their more populist rivals about how whether to tack to the center or further right. In the run-up to the election, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had attempted to shore up his right flank by embracing harder-line positions on immigration and environmental regulations.

Bloomberg analyzed the Tory Party’s likely post-election ideological balance by grouping candidates on their association with a variety of policy positions and party blocs. Bellwether stances include support for amendments to Sunak’s Rwanda deportation plan and the votes in the October 2022 election to replace former premier Liz Truss.

The analysis showed both the moderate One Nation and Eurosceptic European Research Group will probably make up about a fifth of the parliamentary party. Only about half of likely returning MPs voted for Sunak to replace Truss, while around a quarter rebelled on the prime minister’s plans to ban smoking and resolve differences with Europe over the Irish border.

Red Wall Worries

The analysis excluded Conservative candidates who are standing for the first time and likely to win election, since they have not voted in Parliament or joined parliamentary groups. They may be more pro-Sunak than the rest of the party, although reports suggested the party struggled to find candidates, so they may not have undergone strict ideological vetting.

The party’s biggest change will be geographical, with the “red wall” Northern Research Group all but wiped out, reduced to no more than four members from the current 39. The anti-environmental Net Zero Scrutiny Group could also decline to just 6% of the vote from about 17%. That’s despite Sunak’s decision to delay a ban on petrol cars by five years and criticism of the cost of Labour’s environmental policies.

The Conservatives’ factional balance will largely be defined by the re-election of potential leadership candidates, such as Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch. Labour has a realistic chance of beating right-winger Robert Jenrick, moderate Grant Shapps and centrist Penny Mordaunt. By contrast, centrist Tom Tugendhat looks safe, as do right-wingers Suella Braverman and Priti Patel.

Truss, who has embraced a more populist, American-influenced style of conservatism, also looks to be in jeopardy, with only two of the eight MRP polls predicting she will win. Even those results might even underestimate the support she is losing to independent James Bagge.

--With assistance from Alex Wickham.

(Updates with details of methodology in fourth paragraph.)

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