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Reform UK surge ignites Tory blame game after ‘disaster’ exit poll

Senior Conservatives said Rishi Sunak’s failure to grip the Channel crisis and directly take on Nigel Farage are behind a “disaster” election exit poll suggesting the party is on course for its worst ever performance while losing power to Labour.

Labour insiders were meanwhile “very happy” although some campaign officials were sounding caution about “overly generous predictions”.

Sir Keir Starmer is on course to become prime minister with a majority of 170, according to an exit poll that predicted Labour would win 410 seats with the Tories reduced to a rump of 131 MPs – the party’s worst performance ever, outstripping 1906’s nadir.

With Reform predicted to win 13 seats, several senior Tories told i that Sunak had failed to sufficiently take the fight to Farage and was being punished for his failure to fulfil his pledge to “stop the boats” crossing the Channel.

One Tory minister told i the result was a “disaster”, language echoed by a candidate hoping to be returned as an MP who said: “We needed to thwart Reform and we haven’t.”

The candidate said Sunak had made an error in promising to stop the boats when it appeared an uphill task, noting: “Farage didn’t say stop the boats”, while adding that they had seen “a lot of young people voting Reform” in their seat.

A Tory ex-minister and ally of Sunak said: “We didn’t stop the boats so Reform made hay.

“Possibly we should have waited for Rwanda flights.”

But they insisted “Boris and Liz Truss would have been far worse” and that Rishi “has probably headed off complete meltdown”.

A second candidate and ex-minister meanwhile said the predicted results were “dire” and that the party in opposition now needs to “move right and act right” to counter Farage.

Labour insiders were meanwhile “buzzing” despite “obvious issues” with potentially losing seats to Reform and Shadow Culture Secretary Thangam Debonnaire set to be beaten by the Greens in Bristol Central.

One campaign source however warned that while the exit poll was “very good” it may be “overly generous”.

“We think the SNP will not fall to 10,” the source said.

Labour grandee Lord Mandelson has said he is “gobsmacked” by the exit poll and the scale of the forecasted victory for his party, which is only slightly smaller than Sir Tony Blair winning 418 seats in 1997 – an election in which the peer played a major part.

He told the BBC: “I think that an electoral meteor has now struck planet Earth.

“In a sense it’s not surprising given everything the country’s gone through over the last 10 years. I think it would have required Superman as leader of the Conservative Party to lead them back to some sort of victory and Mr Sunak is not Superman, but I would have to say this: this is an extraordinary achievement for Keir Starmer and his team.”

Pat McFadden, Labour’s National Campaign Coordinator, said: “Keir Starmer’s transformation of the Labour Party has been remarkable. He has put country before party and has transformed Labour from a party focused on itself to one back in the service of the British public. We have campaigned as a changed Labour Party, ready to change Britain.”

Tory campaign headquarters said “if these results are correct it is clear that Starmer and Angela Rayner will be in Downing Street tomorrow .

“That means your taxes will rise and our country will be less secure”.

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