In an unexpected move, Conservative MP Dr. Dan Poulter defected to Labour in late April. A former health minister and part-time consultant psychiatrist, Poulter cited the Tories’ failure to handle the strain on the NHS as his main reason for leaving, claiming that the party no longer values public services and is in a very different place to when he was initially elected in 2010. 

The decision is expected to worsen disillusionment with Conservative healthcare policy and form a damaging blow to the Conservatives in the upcoming general election, which Poulter reiterated must occur as soon as possible. In an interview with the BBC, he said he “found it increasingly difficult” to look his NHS colleagues, patients, and constituents in the eye with good conscience. He went on to stress his firm belief that Labour could be trusted to run the NHS, later telling The Observer that he valued their emphasis on tackling social determinants of poor health, such as poverty and housing, a focus which he felt the Conservatives lacked. 

A spokesman for the Conservative Party contested Poulter’s claims by referring to the Conservatives’ plan to raise NHS funding to a record £165bn a year and create its “first ever long-term workforce plan”, arguing that it is in fact Sir Keir Starmer who “has no plan for our NHS” (BBC). Meanwhile, Starmer expressed that he was pleased by the news and that it is “time to end the Conservative chaos”. 

Mixed reactions were also received from Poulter’s constituents in Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, of whom he received more than 50% of the vote when elected as a Conservative in 2010 and 62.7% in the last general election in 2019. In interviews conducted by the BBC, some voters approved of the move in light of the continuous struggles and pressures on the NHS, while others felt that it makes him appear weak and unsure of his beliefs. Even amongst those unimpressed by the decision itself, there appeared to be a general consensus of understanding frustration with healthcare policy, as some believe that the situation cannot get much worse.  

On the 8th of May, less than two weeks after news broke of Poulter’s defection to Labour, Natalie Elphicke, MP for Dover, did the same. Defections are usually rare – prior to Poulter, only one Conservative lawmaker had defected to Labour since 2019 – indicative of the current state of turmoil facing the Conservative party. Elphicke, who backed Boris Johnson, voted for Brexit, and was generally perceived to be on the right wing of the party, caused even greater shock and confusion on both sides with her decision. In a statement emailed to reporters, she criticized Rishi Sunak and claimed that the Labor party under Starmer now “occupies the center ground of British politics” 

As Sunak and the Conservatives look towards the future, these defections in combination with the ever-increasing struggles of the NHS amount to significant roadblocks in fixing their reputation and achieving success in the upcoming general election. 


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