Tories panic over defections as Wes Streeting says he has spoken to more MPs who want to join Labour

Wes Streeting has told The Independent that he has personally spoken to Tory MPs who are considering defecting to Labour because of the “division and incompetence” in Rishi Sunak’s government.

But he insisted that Labour will not take just any Tory MP.

Referencing Mr Sunak’s predecessor’s short term in office, he noted: “If Liz Truss were to want to cross the floor, and I don’t imagine she would, I would rather take the lettuce.”

It comes as Tory MPs are panicking over who could be next to walk out of their party as their once mighty majority of 80 continues to dwindle towards 30.

Tory MPs have admitted that they were “completely blindsided” by the defections of Ms Elphicke and Suffolk MP Dr Dan Poulter the week before.

Dover MP Natalie Elphicke defected from the Conservatives to Labour on Wednesday (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)
Dover MP Natalie Elphicke defected from the Conservatives to Labour on Wednesday (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)

One backbencher summed up the sense of bewilderment, stating: “I don’t know of any MP who plans to defect but the problem is that I did not see either Elphicke or Poulter coming, or rather going.”

However, speaking exclusively to The Independent ahead of the Hay Book Festival later this month, Mr Streeting also had to defend accepting Ms Elphicke into the party with many Labour MPs and activists furious that someone with her right-wing views had been welcomed.

Critics pointed out that while a former Tory who had attacked trade unions, taken a hard line on immigration and also courted controversy over her comments about the sexual abuse victims of her former husband Charlie was allowed into Labour, long-time party member Diane Abbott remains suspended.

The Dover MP was forced to apologise for comments about her ex-husband’s victims less than 24 hours after crossing the floor.

Labour peer Shami Chakrabarti told The Independent: “Like others, I look forward to Ms Elphicke’s first in-depth broadcast interview about her political journey to the Labour Party.

In the meantime, if the tent is big enough for her, I feel sure that Britain’s first black woman MP who has sustained more racist and misogynist abuse than anyone, will have her whip restored urgently.”

Mr Streeting said it was important for voters to see that the MP for Dover, who has been on the front line of the small boats crisis, had lost confidence in the Conservative government.

He said: “I’ve been speaking to other Conservative MPs in Parliament, who are wrestling with their future in the Conservative Party. I’ve no doubt that wasn’t an easy decision for [Ms Elphicke] to come over. Whether other people make the leap, I think remains to be seen.

“I think there are plenty of Conservatives who are thinking about their future in the Conservative Party and definitely take Labour seriously.

“If I had a pound for every Conservative MP, who has said, ‘I think it’s a mess and up to you guys [Labour] to sort this out, we need a period of opposition’, I would be doing pretty well off.”

He went on: “To have the Conservative MP for Dover, who literally sees day in day out the consequences of the small boats crisis, who has tried really hard - Whether people agree with her or not - to get this issue taken seriously, to see her on the six and 10 o'clock news last night, saying very clearly, the Conservatives have failed, and that only Labour can be trusted with our borders and our national security, is a really powerful endorsement.

Wes Streeting believes Tory voters are switching to Labour (Jordan Pettitt/PA Wire)
Wes Streeting believes Tory voters are switching to Labour (Jordan Pettitt/PA Wire)

“That speaks directly to millions of conservatives like Natalie, who have seen not just the chaos but the incompetence of the Conservatives. In Natalie's case, seen the changes in Labour up close and thought, ‘you know what, I actually think these people led by Keir Starmer are more serious’.”

He said that Ms Elphicke reflected the sort of voter who was abandoning the Tories and related it to his autobiographical book - One Boy, Two Bills and a Fry Up - where he spoke about the influence of his grandfather, a working class Tory who always voted Conservative, and his nan Libby, a Labour activist.

He said: “My nan was not a Kinnockite but she would have agreed about what he said about needing to be a broad church.

“My grandather always voted Conservative apart from when he voted Liberal in Tower Hamlets to ‘keep Labour out’ and I don’t know if he would vote Labour now, but my dad, who again is a lifelong Tory voter, voted Labour for the first time for the London Assembly.

“It surprised me, actually, because the only time my dad's ever voted Labour was when my name was on the ballot paper in a council by-election. I think my dad is probably typical of millions of Tory voters who just looked at the chaos, the division and had enough.”

A longer interview with Mr Streeting will be published ahead of the Hay Festival, which runs from May 23 to June 2. Book tickets at and read our highlights guide for more of our recommendations