A senior member of the voluntary Conservative Party has defected to Reform UK, the Right-wing party, amid signs of frustration with the direction of Rishi Sunak’s leadership.
There are fears now of further defections, with Richard Tice, the Reform UK leader, telling The Telegraph conversations about joining the party were continuing “across the board” with Tory councillors and MPs.
Reform UK emerged from the ashes of the Brexit Party, set up by Nigel Farage, the former UK Independence Party leader, after the 2019 European Parliament elections. The party is led by Mr Tice, and Mr Farage is life president.
Cllr David White on Thursday night resigned from his role as the South Yorkshire area chairman for the Conservative Party and will be standing for Reform UK in Barnsley at the next election.
Mr White, who serves on Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council, had been a member of the Tory party since 2003.
He told The Telegraph: “The Conservative Party has changed, with them being unable or unwilling to make the big decisions. I am convinced that they are not in tune with the working people here in Barnsley and across the UK.
“Reform UK dares to say what people are thinking, and finally we now have a party that offers credible alternative solutions to the significant problems that we face.”
Separately, Richard Langridge, an independent district councillor on West Oxfordshire District Council, said he would stand for Reform UK in his home constituency of Witney, Oxfordshire.
Alongside representing a ward in the area, Mr Langridge previously served as the constituency chairman for the Conservative Party and acted as agent for David Cameron, the former prime minister.
He was a Conservative member for over 20 years before quitting to become an independent. He stood as a Reform UK candidate at the May 2021 local elections.
He said: “I have represented the Conservative Party throughout my political career, both whilst serving on the cabinet at the district council, as well as at county level. However, the Conservatives have totally lost their way and are now unrecognisable as the party I have supported all my life.”
On Thursday night, Mr Tice told The Telegraph that he “looks forward to welcoming many many more in the near future as politics in the UK is changing fast for the good”.
He claimed Reform posed “an existential threat” for the Conservatives, adding: “Our ambition is to grow and grow. The Tories have had their chance and blown it.”
Support for Reform UK has been at around eight or nine per cent amid frustration that the Conservative government has failed to tackle illegal immigration and has pushed up taxes.
Luke Tryl, the UK director of More in Common, a think tank, told Friday’s Chopper’s Politics podcast that the defections by the councillors “could be the start of that bandwagon effect”.
He said: “The proof will be in the pudding on that, but you could be the start of that bandwagon effect. Up until now, Reform has struggled to gain traction, part of that is it’s not very well known.”
Senior Tories brushed off the defections, with one saying it was “inevitable” that some Brexit-supporting Conservatives would start to return to a Farage-linked party, adding: “They came across in 2019 and it is inevitable that some will go back.”
The Tories were also buoyed by the fact that Reform only won 2.7 per cent of the vote at the Chester by-election.
Listen to the interview with Luke Tryl on Chopper’s Politics, The Telegraph’ s weekly political podcast, using the audio player at the top of this article or on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast app.