MP’s defection reflects ‘disillusionment’ of Tory voters, says Wes Streeting

<span>Dr Dan Poulter, the MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, was elected as a Conservative at the 2010 general election.</span><span>Photograph:</span>
Dr Dan Poulter, the MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, was elected as a Conservative at the 2010 general election.Photograph:

A former Conservative health minister’s defection to the Labour party reflects the “disaffection and disillusionment felt by millions of Tory voters”, Wes Streeting has said.

Related: I am resigning from the Tory party and joining Labour: only it wants to restore our NHS | Dan Poulter

Dr Dan Poulter, a former one nation Tory, dramatically announced he would be taking the Labour whip until the next election as the Conservative party had become a “nationalist party of the right”, no longer prioritised the NHS or had a “compassionate outlook” on major issues, he told the Observer.

Poulter, also a part-time mental health doctor in an NHS hospital, said his experiences on more than 20 night shifts over the last year in an overwhelmed A&E department were “truly life-changing”.

He said: “I could not go on as part of that. I have to be able to look my NHS colleagues in the eye, my patients in the eye and my constituents in the eye. And I know that the Conservative government has been failing on the thing I care about most, which is the NHS and its patients.”

While he will not seek re-election to the Commons at the next election for his Central Suffolk and North Ipswich seat, he hopes to obtain a role advising the Labour party on its mental health policies post-election. Labour has a “track record” of improving the NHS, Poulter noted.

Streeting, the shadow heath secretary, told Sky News: “I think it’s a reflection of the state of the modern Conservative party.

“I think it reflects the disaffection and disillusionment felt by millions of Conservative voters across the country who are thinking about who to vote for in the next general election.

“I think it also reflects a changed Labour party, frankly, that someone like Dan Poulter, who has worked in the NHS, cares passionately about the NHS, has come to the conclusion that only Labour can be trusted with the NHS.”

Streeting said he was “not aware” on whether any offers were made by Labour to Poulter over his defection.

Chris Philp, the policing minister, refused to accept Poulter’s criticisms of the Conservative party. He told the BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg show: “We do value what they [the NHS] do and that’s why we’re investing, as I say, record amounts of money in both education and health. It’s why we’ve got record numbers of police officers.”

“We’re now spending £165bn a year on the NHS, that’s more than ever, at any point in history,” he added, also pointing to the recruitment of more doctors and nurses. “That isn’t the sign of a party de-prioritising the NHS. That is a sign of a political party, the Conservatives, investing heavily in our NHS because it is a priority.”

The buoyant minister went as far as to say the Tories would see their poll ratings “significantly improve” closer to a general election. “Clearly, at the moment, people do feel grumpy with the government. But as we get closer to an election, it’s not so much a referendum on grumpiness. It becomes actually a choice – who do you want to run the country?”

A number of Tories have lashed out at Poulter, questioning his voting record in parliament, his work as a government health minister in the coalition years, and absence in his constituency and Westminster.

Related: Tory defector Christian Wakeford on crossing the floor: ‘All I was thinking was, please don’t throw up’

The defection delivered a severe blow to Rishi Sunak’s authority before what is expected to be a bruising week in which the Tories are expected to lose up to a half of its remaining local authority seats. Losses of the West Midlands and Tees Valley mayoralties this week could also push rumours of a Conservative leadership challenge.

In what marked the second defection under Sunak, after Lee Anderson ditched the party for Reform, and the third of this parliament, after Christian Wakeford, Poulter urged Sunak to call a general election “as soon as possible”.