Inside the Tory town where immigration failure is set to spark devastating election loss

A Tory town could witness an electoral shift fuelled by immigration
A Tory town could witness an electoral shift fuelled by immigration
GETTY/GB NEWS
Jack Walters

By Jack Walters


Published: 11/02/2024

- 15:21

Voters in Wellingborough told GB News that immigration was a key issue in turning away from the Tories

The issue of immigration looks set to spark a devastating by-election loss for Rishi Sunak as disgruntled voters in a Tory town look to punish the Prime Minister.

Voters in Wellingborough, which have backed the Tories in every election since 2005, appear on the cusp of delivering a by-election blow by switching to both Labour and Reform UK.


The situation will only heap more pressure on the Prime Minister on February 15 with a by-election bloodbath possible if voters switch en masse in Kingswood.

GB News spoke to around a dozen voters in Wellingborough on Wednesday.

Wellingborough is a market down in the East Midlands

Wellingborough is a market down in the East Midlands

GB NEWS

Several claimed Sunak’s failure on both legal and illegal immigration was key to the shifting political sands in the Midlands market town.

Jackie Wilton, 58, who was previously a Tory voter, said: "Sunak's a weak Prime Minister and there is nobody who can take his place."

Mack Wilton, 76, added: "We think the Tories need to grow a backbone and start doing what the public want them to do which is stop illegal immigration."

Elaine Blower, 68, said: "I’m toying with Labour this time because the country is in a dump.

"Everything is going wrong, from immigration to the NHS, it’s just dire, isn’t it?"

A number of other voters brought up the issue of immigration, with many leaning towards voting for Richard Tice’s Reform UK on February 15.

The rebranded Brexit Party is putting up ex-MEP Ben Habib.

He also cited immigration as an important issue on the doorstep as the populist party looks to outflank the Tories.

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The issue of immigration was raised as a key reason by Mack WiltonThe issue of immigration was raised as a key reason by Mack WiltonGB NEWS

Habib told GB News: “We are the only small-c Conservative Party.

“The Conservative Party is not conservative. It’s basically a socialist party practising rampant immigration, high taxation, and large spending.

“They feel threatened by us because we are genuinely small c-Conservatives.

“We’re proud of the United Kingdom, we want to make policies unashamedly for the United Kingdom, we want to reduce taxes on the working and middle class, we want to dramatically reduce legal immigration, we would stop illegal immigration.

“The Conservative Party wants to say it wants to do this but it doesn’t want to do it.

“The Tories are petrified of us because people might recognise that we would deliver.”

Despite Helen Harrison being unable to provide comment, GB News understands Peter Bone’s girlfriend is positioning herself as pro-Brexit and strong on immigration.

She is also warning Labour’s candidate Gen Kitchen supported a second referendum and votes for Reform UK will just allow Sir Keir Starmer to claim victory.

GB News has copies of some of Harrison’s campaign literature.

The Reform UK Party's Ben Habib is arguing that "in the national interest, the Tories should step down".

The Reform UK Party's Ben Habib is positioning himself to the right of the Tories on legal and illegal migration

GETTY

The first blasts Labour over Sir Keir Starmer’s stance on immigration and small boats pact with the European Union.

However, another highlights concerns about the threat from Reform UK.

It said: “The more people who vote Reform, the greater chance we end up with an anti-Brexit MP who didn’t respect the view and the vote of the vast majority in our area.”

Habib is also fixating efforts on disillusionment on border control as a recent YouGov opinion poll revealed immigration is the most important issue for Brexit-backing and Tory voters.

However, immigration features much less prominently on Labour’s by-election literature.

Kitchen’s campaign instead centres on issues such as the NHS, knife-crime, potholes, cost-of-living and political integrity.

Chesterfield MP Toby Perkins and Shadow Defence Secretary John Healey suggested fatigue with the Tories is instead fuelling support for Labour.

Perkins told GB News: “This isn't a mid-term protest vote. This is people making serious decisions.

“But we are conscious that this is not a seat that is on the list that Labour has to win in order to win the general election.”

GB News has collected leaflets given out to voters in WellingboroughGB News has collected leaflets given out to voters in WellingboroughGB NEWS

Healey added: “Many people are saying time is up, time for a change.”

North Northamptonshire, which covers Wellingborough, is roughly in line with England’s overall demographic shift.

Eight-in-10 residents reported their country of birth as England, data compiled by the Office for National Statistics has shown.

However, Wellingborough witnessed a rapid growth in the number of births to non-UK-born mothers as a share of total live births.

The figure jumped from 20 per cent in 2010 to 33 per cent in 2019.

The speed of change can in part explain Wellingborough’s susceptibility to Ukip, Brexit and potentially Reform UK.

Ukip leapfrogged Labour into second place in 2015 after receiving 19.6 per cent of the vote and 64 per cent of residents supported Brexit just one year later.

Similar electoral shifts have been witnessed in Havering, Dartford, Boston, Thurrock, Swindon, Broxbourne and Mansfield.

Wellingborough's Tory association is looking a bit worse for wearWellingborough's Tory association is looking a bit worse for wearGB NEWS

Many of the seats had at some stage voted for Labour, particularly under Tony Blair.

However, voters in the constituencies seemed to shift towards Ukip and the Tories in the mid-2000s and 2010s.

Reform UK will hope to sweep up support over rising discontent with Sunak’s handling of both illegal and legal migration.

Net migration into the UK was a record 745,000 last year, revised figures have shown.

The Government is hoping to curb legal migration through a number of measures, increasing the minimum earnings threshold for Skilled Worker visas from £26,200 to £38,700.

A staggering 29,437 migrants crossed the Channel in 2023, down from the 45,774 who made the perilous 21-mile journey the previous year.

However, the Prime Minister was given a boost when his flagship Safety of Rwanda Bill passed through the Commons following a short-lived Tory rebellion threat.

Reform UK is ambitious about what it can achieve in Wellingborough.

Migrants, picked up at sea attempting to cross the English Channel, are helped ashore from an Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) lifeboatMigrants, picked up at sea attempting to cross the English Channel, are helped ashore from an Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) lifeboatGETTY

The populist party is openly limiting expectations by claiming obtaining around 10 per cent support is the target.

A source told GB News: “The fact is that we are actually looking at hitting our average poll score in a fought by-election.”

“The Labour Party are everywhere, we can't compete with that.

“By-elections are won in the trenches, street-to-street, on the ground. Labour have made a huge effort and I expect they will win.

“But we will save our deposit. I will be delighted if we hit 10 per cent and will be over the moon if we surprise the Tories and catch them.”

However, an activist on Wellingborough high street was keen to stress Reform UK is in it to win it.

Habib echoed the optimism, claiming: “The best result, and the result I am aiming for, is to win.”