Portugal Colonial - Farage bullish as hard-right Reform UK pips Tories in poll

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Farage bullish as hard-right Reform UK pips Tories in poll
Farage bullish as hard-right Reform UK pips Tories in poll / Photo: BENJAMIN CREMEL - AFP

Farage bullish as hard-right Reform UK pips Tories in poll

Brexiteer Nigel Farage claimed Friday his anti-immigration Reform UK party was now the main opposition to frontrunners Labour in Britain's general election campaign, after a poll put them ahead of the Conservatives for the first time.

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The UK's winner-takes-all first-past-the-post system favours the bigger parties, however, and other surveys all show Farage's hard-right group trailing Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's Tories before next month's vote.

Farage nevertheless predicted that his party could win more than six million votes after the YouGov poll, conducted on Wednesday and Thursday, indicated 19 percent support for Reform and 18 percent for the Conservatives.

Both are trailing far behind the centre-left Labour party, with leader Keir Starmer odds-on to become the next premier.

"We are now the real opposition," Farage, 60, told reporters in London, displaying the same bullishness that convinced a majority of Brits to vote to leave the European Union in 2016.

Support for Reform has grown since the man dubbed "Mr Brexit" by Donald Trump announced earlier this month that he would stand in the election after all.

Farage did a deal with the Conservatives at the last general election in 2019 to avoid splitting the right-wing vote.

His entry into this year's race however risks depriving the Tories of key seats needed to win a fifth consecutive term in power.

"The fact that Nigel Farage's party are neck and neck with the governing Conservatives is a seismic shift in the voting landscape," YouGov said.

- 'Blank cheque' -

The pollsters cautioned, though, that the figures were "well within the margin of error of one another".

Sunak sought to play down the survey, telling British media in Italy, where he was attending the G7 leaders' meeting, that the election campaign had only just passed the half-way stage.

"The only poll that matters is the one on July 4," he said.

But senior Tory Laura Trott insisted its findings were a "stark warning" that Labour was on track for a landslide win.

The survey indicated that Starmer's party still hold a commanding lead at 37 percent, in line with other surveys that have put it some 20 points ahead for nearly two years.

But he is still fighting to overcome persistent Conservative claims that his party will recklessly spend public finances and increase personal taxes -- a perennial jibe from right-wingers.

"If a result like this is replicated on election day, Keir Starmer would have huge and unchecked power to tax your home, your job, your car, your pension however he wants," said Trott.

- Tory future? -

The Conservatives are firmly on the back foot after a torrid 14 years in power marked by Brexit, Covid and a cost-of-living crisis.

Senior Tories have taken to the airwaves in recent days to warn voters about handing Labour a "supermajority" in parliament for the next five years.

There are increasing questions, too, about what will happen to the Conservatives after the election, which would likely see Sunak stand down if Labour wins heavily.

Any Tory leadership contest would likely be an ideological fight between the centre-right and vocal right-wingers who have been increasingly critical of the party's immigration stance.

That has prompted talk of Farage, who on Friday reiterated his admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin as a "political operator" and described Adolf Hitler as "hypnotic in a very dangerous way", joining the Conservatives.

But the former member of the European Parliament, who is standing to become a British MP at the eighth attempt, has said instead that he wants to take over the party.

The Conservatives have gone through five prime ministers since 2016, including three in just four months in 2022.

Much of that was the result of Brexit.

But there were also self-inflicted wounds: the chaos of Boris Johnson's time as leader and Liz Truss's short-lived tenure, when her unfunded tax cuts spooked the markets and crashed the pound.

Labour's Starmer, who is campaigning on promises to spur growth and restore economic "stability", is keen not to squander the party's huge poll lead, running a cautious campaign to end Tory "chaos".