Conservative peer wants ‘shot across bows’ of mystery donors behind poll predicting Tory election wipeout

Intrigue in Westminster over identities of people behind new pressure group Conservative Britain Alliance

An influential Tory peer and polling expert has asked Britain’s Electoral Commission to investigate the circumstances surrounding a recent poll, paid for by mystery Conservative donors, which predicted a landslide Labour victory and has been used to foment political unrest against prime minister Rishi Sunak.

Robert Hayward, a former MP and a member of the House of Lords, wants the commission, which regulates political finance, to “fire a shot across the bows” of people who might seek to use anonymous polls to influence British politics.

He raised a concern that the poll seemed more like political campaigning, which must be openly declared once its cost breaches certain financial thresholds. The commission said it was “carefully considering” Lord Hayward’s complaint.

The constituency-by-constituency poll was published in the Daily Telegraph two weeks ago and sparked panic in the Conservative party. It predicted the Tories are on course for the worst British political reverse in almost 120 years at this year’s election, and could lose nearly 200 MPs.


The survey of 14,000 voters found that Labour leader Keir Starmer may be on course to lead his party to a 120-seat majority. It predicted many senior cabinet members, including chancellor Jeremy Hunt and education secretary Gillian Keegan, would lose out, as well as attorney general Victoria Prentis, former party leader Iain Duncan Smith and former Tory party deputy chairman Lee Anderson.

Former Brexit secretary and House of Lords member David Frost has said he was involved in organising the poll that was carried out by YouGov, as he called for Mr Sunak’s government to tack further to the right on issues such as immigration.

The poll was paid for by a mystery group, the Conservative Britain Alliance, which government sources believe is funded by disaffected Tory donors and members who may be sympathetic to Reform UK, the party founded by Nigel Farage.

The real identity of the people behind Conservative Britain Alliance has yet to be established despite feverish speculation in Westminster for two weeks that they are linked to rebel Tory MPs who would like to oust Mr Sunak. Days after the poll was released Simon Clarke, a former minister who has sided with rebels on immigration, called for the prime minister to quit.

Lord Hayward, who famously in Westminster correctly predicted the Tories’ shock victory in 1992, asked Election Commission chairman John Pullinger if it was “really correct that a poll can be undertaken with no credible identifiable ‘beneficial owner’?”

He also copied his complaint to the UK’s statistics authority and the British Polling Council, an industry group that promotes transparency.

Speaking in Westminster on Monday after he circulated his letter, Lord Hayward said he did “not believe it is credible” that the poll, which appeared framed to pile pressure on to Mr Sunak, “is not [political] campaigning in some form”. Campaigning must be declared if it costs above £37,500 (€44,000), which the poll is believed to have done.

Lord Hayward said he had acted of his “own free will” in sending the letter to the commission, and had not been asked to do so by Number 10.

The putative rebellion that Mr Clarke tried to start after the poll fell flat recently, but speculation is swirling in Westminster that internal opponents of Mr Sunak will continue to seek to undermine him in the months ahead.

  • Sign up for push alerts and have the best news, analysis and comment delivered directly to your phone
  • Find The Irish Times on WhatsApp and stay up to date
  • Our In The News podcast is now published daily – Find the latest episode here
Mark Paul

Mark Paul

Mark Paul is London Correspondent for The Irish Times