What went wrong for the Tories in their election 'armageddon'?

As the Conservative Party picks up the pieces after its historic election defeat, here's what politicians and analysts believe went wrong for the Tories.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 05: Outgoing British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak accompanied by his wife Akshata Murty gives a final speech outside 10 Downing Street before travelling to Buckingham Palace to meet King Charles III and officially resign as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in London, United Kingdom on July 05, 2024. The general election has returned a landslide victory for the Labour Party ending 14 years of Conservative governments in Britain. (Photo by Wiktor Szymanowicz/Anadolu via Getty Images)
Rishi Sunak, accompanied by wife Akshata Murty, leaves 10 Downing Street to give a final speech before standing down as PM. (Getty Images)

The Tories have suffered their biggest general election defeat in history, with questions already being asked over how the party can rebuild.

Announcing his resignation as prime minister on the steps of Number 10, Rishi Sunak said he would "take responsibility" for the crushing loss, adding: "I have heard your anger, your disappointment."

The writing was on the wall for some time, with the Conservative Party trailing behind in the polls for months before losing 251 constituencies, leaving the Tories with just 121 seats in the Commons.

Sir Keir Starmer's Labour won a landslide 412 seats – up by 211 – although with a third of the popular vote, questions have been raised about how the party will build its support going forward.

“It is clearly a terrible night for the Conservatives. I’m afraid I think the Conservative Party took its core vote for granted," said prominent Brexiter Jacob Rees-Mogg, who lost his seat of North East Somerset.

He told the Telegraph: “We have no divine right to votes. We need to win voters at every single election. And if you take your base for granted, if you don’t manage to stop the boats coming over, if you don’t manage to control migration when that’s what your voters are concerned about, your voters will look to other parties. So, I think failing to deliver on Conservative core principles did us a lot of harm.”

Former justice secretary Sir Robert Buckland, who lost his seat, suggested too much infighting within the Tory party had undermined the government's primary duty of running the country. "I've watched colleagues strike poses, write inflammatory op-eds, and say stupid things they have no evidence for, instead of concentrating on doing the job that they were elected to do," he told the BBC.

"I'm fed up of personal agendas and jockeying for position. The truth is now with the Conservatives facing electoral armageddon, it's going to be like a group of bald men arguing over a comb."

While Rees-Mogg suggested the party wasn't tough enough on migration, seemingly alluding to votes lost to Reform UK, Buckland said moving further to the right would be a "disastrous mistake" that "would send us into the abyss".

While Reform UK has only won five seats, Chris Hopkins, political research director for pollsters Savanta told Politics Home that Nigel Farage's party had firmly established itself as a "political force".

After winning his seat of Clacton - his eighth attempt at becoming an MP – Farage said: "I think what Reform UK has achieved in just a few short weeks is extraordinary... My plan is to build a mass national movement over the course of next few years as hopefully be big enough to challenge the general election properly in 2029.

Reform UK leader Nigel Farage at Clacton Leisure Centre in Clacton, Essex, after he was declared the winner of the Clacton constituency in the 2024 General Election. Picture date: Friday July 5, 2024.
Nigel Farage became an MP at the eighth time of asking.

"There's no enthusiasm for Labour or Starmer whatsoever... this Labour government will be in trouble very very quickly and we will now be targeting Labour votes. We're coming for Labour, be in no doubt about that."

Suggesting that Friday's result was more to do with the rise of Reform, than enthusiasm for Labour, Bloomberg news editor Andre Tartar wrote: "Labour may have won a landslide victory in the UK election, but their vote share barely budged. The bigger reason is Reform UK, the insurgent right-wing party led by Nigel Farage, which had the biggest vote-share increase in ~80% of seats the Tories lost."

Echoing this sentiment, former Tory cabinet minister Rory Stewart, described Labour's victory as a "loveless landslide". He told Channel 4: “I think it’s a big problem – 36% of the vote in historical terms has been nothing."

  • This was one of the most remarkable collapses for a political party in our history. “Labour's small increase in national vote share and yet the largest swing points to the fact that it has benefitted from one of the most remarkable collapses for a political party in our electoral history.” [Sky News]

  • Tories will have to come to terms with Reform’s success. “The question for the Conservatives now is clearly how they reinvent themselves and regain credibility, but this can only be answered when we see who it is who is left to do the reinventing.” [The Telegraph]

  • Voices: Tory downfall: The 9 reasons it has all gone wrong for Rishi Sunak. “While there was a hope he could turn the party fortunes around once it became clear that he would not be able to do that then his own MPs gave up.” [The Independent]

  • Rebuilding the Tory party must start now. “For the sake of the country, they will need to find it in themselves to set about the task of rebuilding – initially to provide an effective opposition, and then to offer a compelling vision for the country’s future.” [The Telegraph]

  • We warned the Tory leadership that catastrophe was coming. Now they must go and never be seen again. “Decent man though he is, Rishi Sunak’s brief, tragic premiership has ended, and it is best that it has done so, though I wish it could have been sooner.” [The Telegraph]

  • This election has upended British politics. A strange new landscape is revealed. “Rehabilitation of Conservative economic credibility might not have been feasible after Liz Truss’s calamitous short reign, but some restoration of the ‘integrity, professionalism and accountability’ that Sunak pledged on entering No 10 should not have been beyond reach.” [The Guardian]

  • Labour’s election victory is weaker than you think. “Although it will be Starmer walking into 10 Downing Street as Britain’s next prime minister, it’s Farage’s Reform that end the campaign with the fabled political momentum. Farage’s ragtag troop may have won only a handful of seats in the House of Commons, but the Reform vote share and breadth of its support will keep both Labour and Conservative strategists awake in the wee hours for years to come.” [Politico]