Conservative Manchester mayoral candidate defects to Reform due to Tories’ ‘giving up’ on the north

‘It’s like the old sinking ship scenario.’

Dan Barker, the Conservative candidate for Mayor of Greater Manchester, has defected to Reform UK, citing the Tories’ abandonment of the north of England as the reason for his desertion of the party.

In December, Barker was selected by the Tories to challenge the current Labour mayor, Andy Burnham in the Greater Manchester mayoral elections that are set to take place on May 2. Barker had also been serving as chairman for the Wythenshawe and Sale East Conservatives.

Speaking to the BBC, he said that his former party had given up on northern regions to focus on other seats under threat from the Liberal Democrats.

“I think, in truth, they’ve given up on Greater Manchester and the north of England.

“You can see that from inside the party, what they are really doing is trying to protect the blue wall in the South East and the South West because they fear that the Liberal Democrats are going to annihilate them,” he said.

Levelling up the country was Boris Johnson’s flagship project, one that has been found to have failed spectacularly. A report published by the House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee last week, found that as of September 2023, local authorities had spent only £1.24bn of the £10.47bn the government promised to tackle regional inequality across the UK. The Committee found that the government has nothing in place to measure the policy’s impact in the long term. There is “no compelling evidence” that levelling up has achieved anything, the watchdog concluded.

On Barker’s defection, Richard Tice, leader of the right-wing party, welcomed Barker to his party. In a post on X, Tice boasted that ‘another senior Tory defects to Reform UK…’

In response to the defection, Andy Burnham said he did not think it reflected ‘well on either the candidate or the party. “It’s like the old sinking ship scenario,” he said.

Jake Austin, the Liberal Democrat candidate for the mayoral election, described the defection as “yet another example of the Conservatives in complete meltdown across Greater Manchester.”

Barker is the latest Tory to defect to Reform, which was founded by Nigel Farage. He follows Lee Anderson, former deputy chair of the Conservative Party, who deserted the party to go to Reform on March 11.

According to a new poll, the right-wing, anti-immigration party has hit its highest level of support since its inception and is closing the gap between them and the Tories. The polling, conducted by YouGov, put the Conservatives on 19 percent support, while Reform UK was on 15 percent, an increase of one point.

Reacting to the latest figures, Lee Anderson said: “The gap is closing. At least one plan is working.”

Tory MP Miriam Cates described the rise in support for Reform UK as ‘very troubling.’ When asked about the new YouGov poll showing the Tories are down to 19 percent, she told GB News: “Yes, of course I am worried. They are very troubling figures for Conservatives.

“And I think it shows very much that we need to be leaning into these issues of immigration that people are so concerned about, economic security, those kinds of issues that did win us the election in 2019 that Boris Johnson very much stood for.

“The only route back to victory for the Conservatives is to lean into those issues that voters so very much care about.”

The Conservatives have 15 days to select a new candidate for mayor. A party source said: “The Conservatives received under 20 percent of the vote in Manchester in 2021. We have to be realistic about our prospects in this election.”

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

Image credit: Andy Roberts – Creative Commons

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