U.K. Conservatives are Cratering

The party campaigned on a populist platform but abandoned promises after taking power.

What’s happening: The United Kingdom will hold elections later this year, and the ruling Conservative Party (also called “Tories”) is on track to have the worst election result in its 190-year history. Currently, the left-wing Labour Party leads by almost 20 percent.

How quickly things change: In 2019, Tories won their largest victory in decades by embracing Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s populist platform, which focused on finishing Brexit and increasing spending.

Promises, promises: Johnson promised to “level-up” northern England — a post-industrial area like the American Rust Belt — by increasing infrastructure spending and expanding high-speed rail. Though this district normally voted for Labour, in 2019 they swung hard toward the Tories, giving them a large majority.

Ousted: Johnson was forced out in 2022 amidst a COVID-era scandal, damaging his reputation and fracturing his Conservative Party.

  • The succession: Liz Truss took power, reversed course, and attempted to cut taxes for the wealthy. She was soon replaced by current P.M. Rishi Sunak, who walked back the promise to extend high-speed rail and even purged a right-wing member of his cabinet.

The north remembers: Tories cratered in the polls and never recovered. Northern voters felt abandoned by the move away from Johnson’s populism and, in turn, are abandoning the Tories. A full 56 percent of northerners who voted Tory in 2019 believe the party has failed to help them.

Why it matters: The dire situation the Conservative Party is facing highlights the consequences of reneging on campaign promises. As right-populist parties around the world gain traction, a left-wing swing is always one election away.