Is Rishi Sunak’s assisted suicide support the Tory death-knell?

Is Rishi Sunak’s assisted suicide support the Tory death-knell? British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Photo: OSV Annegret Hilse, Reuters

What is Rishi Sunak thinking? With the Conservative Party well and truly tanking in the polls, hanging on to only its most loyal voting base and an election a mere fortnight away, he chooses to announce that he is not opposed to assisted suicide.

The Conservative Party, after 14 years in power, overseeing and implementing a legislative regime, almost totally at odds with what it purports to stand for, has seen the Labour Party reclaim the support it lost five years ago and then some more. The Labour Party has re-taken the vote on the left, left of centre and probably a significant portion to the right of centre as well.

Nigel Farage’s re-entry into politics has started to rapidly erode the Tory supporter base on the right, with some polls placing the Reform Party ahead of the Conservatives in advance of the July 4 election.

The polls continue to spell doom for the Tories – with a poll in the Sunday Times suggesting the Tories will be reduced to 72 MPs and Starmer will cruise to power with a 262-seat majority. The same poll found that support for Nigel Farage’s party has increased by two points to 19%, with the Tories one point behind on 18%.

Why, in all good sense, would Rishi Sunak announce his support for a policy that is already supported by Labour and most likely opposed by the remaining steadfast Tory voters? If ever there were suspicions that Sunak is unfit to lead the Conservatives, this additional misstep is guaranteed to push another portion of the dissatisfied voting base into the arms of Farage’s Reform Party.


If Sunak is hoping to regain some votes from the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats, by attempting to burnish his socially liberal credentials, even the least informed of political followers would understand that no such approach is going to tempt those who have been thoroughly disappointed with Tory misrule over the past five, if not 14, years of governing.

Earlier in the campaign, Sunak had clearly targeted the core Conservative voting base – the only social strata that were (barely) majority Tory voters – the ‘grey vote’, by promising to cut tax for pensioners. Billed as the ‘Triple Lock Plus’ both the state pension and the tax-free allowance would rise in line with the highest of earnings, wages or 2.5%, protecting pensions from the impact of inflation and economic growth.

The family is the primary building block of society. They are the ‘somewheres’, rooted in family, community, neighbourhood and locality”

During the G7 summit, Sunak said he is not opposed to assisted suicide as long as there are safeguards to protect the vulnerable and ensure no one is pressurised into killing themselves. Does the Prime Minister believe that this will appeal to the grey vote? Or to his remaining conservative base?

Conservative voters are, to generalise, people who see the ‘little platoons’ as fundamental to society. They see personal responsibility to those nearest and dearest as necessary for democracy. They look to civil society as an interlocutor between the State and the individual. The family is the primary building block of society. They are the ‘somewheres’, rooted in family, community, neighbourhood and locality. Increasingly, these are elderly or of ‘middle England’.


Labour voters, progressives if you want, are adherents to individualism and the expectation of the State to maximise liberty and choice. They are the ‘anywheres’, uprooted from community whose primary relationships are those who share the same values and social class, rather than those they share physical spaces with.

Does Sunak believe that a commitment to assisted suicide will appeal to the ‘somewheres’ and to the elderly? Will turkeys vote for Christmas? Of course not. Assisted dying is mainly supported by those who have eschewed personal commitment and see the State as the primary provider of care services.

Reported in the Telegraph, Dr Gordon Macdonald, chief executive of Care Not Killing, argued that the Prime Minister’s comments do not mean his position on assisted suicide has changed. “These new comments do not reflect a change in his stance. What they do show is he recognises the difficulty in drafting robust legislation on this issue, because of what we see in the handful of jurisdictions that have introduced state-assisted killing.”

The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Assisted Suicide heard extensively that attempted safeguards have proven to be ineffective”

This may be wishful thinking. He may be correct that Sunak is trying to walk both sides of the road on this – seeking to burnish his liberal credentials while falling back on the unworkability of ‘safe’ assisted suicide.

As an electoral strategy, this makes no sense. As the saying goes: ‘when you are explaining, you are losing’, and Sunak’s statements will require some explanation in order to satisfy his voting base.

More likely, Sunak genuinely believes in assisted suicide as a societal good. And like the majority of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Assisted Dying, he believes not in the reality of all the regimes where assisted suicide has failed to protect the vulnerable through adequate safeguards but in the perfectibility of his own legislative system and of human nature.

The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Assisted Suicide heard extensively that attempted safeguards have proven to be ineffective and that every jurisdiction that introduced assisted suicide has seen its boundaries extended rapidly.


Immediately, it becomes clear that it is impossible to draw a clear line between what is permitted and what is not, irrespective of how the law is defined. Why is assisted suicide allowed for one borderline case and not for another? The slippery slope is real in every jurisdiction and only the gullible or the devious choose to suggest otherwise.

And then there is the imperfectability of human nature. Even if families and loved ones could be convinced to never, ever put even the slightest unintentional emotional pressure on their elderly, infirm dependents, is it possible to protect the elderly from themselves, from feeling that they are a burden and for wishing to unburden their children, who they have loved and raised, from the time, energy and cost of looking after them into their extended dotage?

If the upcoming election was already a lost cause for the Tories, Rishi Sunak may have put the final nail in the coffin of the party, driving a further portion of its voting base into the welcome arms of the Reform Party, relegating the Tories to the previously unimaginable position of a minority opposition party. Nigel Farage’s aim is to destroy and replace the Conservative Party in the UK. He may just have been gifted his wish.