May 22, 2024

(Bloomberg) — Former Conservative deputy chairman Lee Anderson defected to Nigel Farage’s right-wing populist Reform UK, a move that heaps further pressure on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak as he tries to reverse his party’s slump in the polls ahead of a general election expected in the autumn.

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Anderson, who was suspended from the Tory party after he claimed Labour’s Mayor of London Sadiq Khan was controlled by “Islamists,” told a televised press conference on Monday: “All I want is my country back.”

Read More: Why Tiny Reform UK Holds Conservative Party in Thrall: QuickTake

Anderson’s defection is a significant boost for Reform, which has been climbing in the polls and now has an MP in the House of Commons to further its agenda.

It will also raise further questions about Sunak’s judgment. Anderson was promoted to try to mollify the restless right of the Conservative Party and to try to stop Tory voters making the switch to Reform. Yet giving Anderson and his views more prominence appears to have backfired.

Many Tory MPs fear a resurgent Reform UK will help the opposition Labour Party, which leads by over 20 points in national polls, to a landslide win in the election by splitting the traditional Tory support.

The son of a miner and former longtime Labour supporter, Anderson is known for articulating populist opinions and often provoked controversy before his suspension as a Tory MP. He denied his latest shift was driven by attention-seeking. “My political beliefs have never changed,” he said.

He was dubbed “30p Lee” after inviting opposition MPs to visit a food bank in his constituency, where he said that meals could be cooked for about 30 pence per day. Anderson also supported the return of capital punishment and has used earthy language in his calls for migrants to return to their countries of origin.

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