'Don't write them off!' Reform UK faces huge by-election test as top pollster gives Tice benchmark

'Don't write them off!' Reform UK faces huge by-election test as top pollster gives Tice benchmark

Ben Habib was unveiled as Reform UK's candidate in Wellingborough

GB News
Jack Walters

By Jack Walters

Published: 05/01/2024

- 21:52

Updated: 07/01/2024

- 17:17

Voters will go to the polls in Wellingborough after Tory MP Peter Bone was ousted through a recall petition

Reform UK has been tipped to receive at least 10 per cent of the vote in the upcoming Wellingborough by-election to reflect double-digit levels of support in the opinion polls, a former Number 10 pollster has claimed.

Richard Tice faces his first electoral test since taking aim at Rishi Sunak’s Tories and Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour Party this week as campaigners descend on Northamptonshire for a key by-election battle.

Former Brexit Party MEP Ben Habib will stand as Reform UK’s candidate in Wellingborough after a recall petition forced Tory MP Peter Bone out of Parliament amid allegations of sexual misconduct.

Habib, 58, was unveiled as the populist party’s candidate on Wednesday.

Richard Tice

Richard Tice


He vowed “to hold this wretched Government to account”, adding: “The reason I am standing in Wellingborough is because it is not sufficient anymore simply to defeat the Tories.”

However, a top pollster has set Tice and Habib a target ahead of polling day.

JL Partners’ co-founder James Johnson, who previously ran polling in Downing Street under Theresa May, argued Reform UK would need to hit around 10 per cent to make its mark.

He told GB News: “I haven’t looked at the modelling on that and I can’t give you an exact figure.

“But you certainly would expect to see Reform getting at least 10 per cent of the vote in a place like that.

“Anything below 10 per cent would mean we really need to question the idea that Reform is polling at double-digits.

“Even then, a lot of voters that will be likely to vote Reform are the kind of people who don’t vote in by-elections but do vote in general elections.

“I’m not sure we should write them off too quickly but of all the by-elections we’ve had recently this is the one where you’d expect them to do a bit better.”

Former Number 10 pollster James Johnson

Former Number 10 pollster James Johnson


Wellingborough could prove fertile ground for Tice and Habib, with 64 per cent of voters backing Brexit in 2016.

More than 62 per cent of voters supported Bone in 2019 and Ukip previously leapfrogged Labour into second place in 2015 after receiving 19.6 per cent of ballots.

Johnson’s by-election benchmark has also been echoed by polling aggregator website Britain Elects.

Britain Elects, which believes Labour is one-point ahead of the Tory Party in the Northamptonshire seat, gives Reform UK 11.5 per cent of the vote based on current opinion polls.

A second by-election challenge in Kingswood will soon follow after former Climate Minister Chris Skidmore resigned from the Commons over the introduction of the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill.

Kingswood, which many anticipate could prove fruitful for Labour, was slightly less prone than Wellingborough to support UKIP in 2015 and more narrowly voted to exit the Brussels bloc the following year.

Despite fighting talk from Tice and Habib on Wednesday, Reform UK has failed to leave its mark on the British electoral landscape in by-elections contested since the 2019 general election.

Ben Habib

Ben Habib


Tice’s party averaged just 2.85 per cent of the vote in 16 contests, only exceeding five per cent in Old Bexley & Sidcup and Tamworth.

Ukip performed notably better ahead of the 2015 general election, winning Clacton and Rochester & Strood following two defections.

Nigel Farage fell agonisingly short of securing another by-election victory in Heywood & Middleton but managed to finish in second place in all four other contests between 2013 and polling day.

The Brexit Party also performed markedly better in the two by-elections held in 2019, receiving 28.9 per cent of the vote in Peterborough and 10.5 per cent of the vote in Brecon & Radnorshire.

Reform UK's struggles extend to recent local election campaigns, averaging just six per cent of the vote in wards where it fielded candidates in 2023.

Ukip averaged 19 per cent in the wards it contested in the last equivalent poll in 2019.

However, opinion polls have shown a surge in support for Reform UK in recent weeks.

A survey conducted by Redfield & Wilton showed the party’s vote share stood at just four per cent in October.

Nigel FarageNigel FaragePA

The same pollster put support for Reform UK at 10 per cent in mid-December.

Surveys also suggest Reform UK could receive a significant boost if Farage opted to lead the populist party into the election.

Addressing speculation about Farage returning to the political frontline, Tice said: “We’ve been talking over the Christmas period and he’s obviously giving a lot of thought as to the extent of the role he wants to play in helping Reform UK frankly save Britain.

“He is still assessing that. Nigel is the master of political timing but I’m very clear the job at hand is so big to save Britain, the more that Nigel is able to give in the election campaign, frankly, the better.”

However, Tice also told GB News: “I think that the least likely thing is that Nigel would stand under a first-past-the-post system in a constituency.

“He’s consistently said that he wouldn’t and we want proportional representation.”

Farage fell 2,815 votes short of entering the House of Commons in 2015 after ex-Ukip Treasurer Craig Mackinlay was elected as Thanet South’s Tory MP.

The former MEP, who stood in six other contests from 1994 to 2010, led the Brexit Party’s 2019 campaign without standing in a constituency.

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