Tory MP and ex-health minister Dan Poulter's defection to Labour piles pressure on PM

Tory MP and former health minister Dan Poulter says he is defecting to Labour because NHS patients “deserve better” as he urged Rishi Sunak to “call an election now”.

The MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich on Saturday quit the Tory Party saying it is “failing” the health service and that he could no longer “look my NHS colleagues in the eye” as a Conservative.

Dr Poulter’s move is likely to spook already restive Tory MPs and fuel doubts over Mr Sunak’s premiership.

He will take the Labour whip until the general election but will not be running again as the MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, he wrote in the Observer.

Dr Poulter told BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg in an interview aired on Sunday: “The struggles of patients in accessing timely good care was something that really resonated with me.”

He said it felt “increasinging difficult to look NHS colleagues in the eye with a good conscious” and “patients deserve better”.

“If we want to restore that service than I believe we need to look to a party that has a track record...of delivering for patients.

“That’s what Keir Starmer and the Labour party will do.”

Speaking of the Conservative Party more widely, he said: “We now have a Tory party that resembles a bit more of a nationalist national party rather than a party of the centre right.

Dr Dan Poulter signing his Labour Party membership form with Ellie Reeves (Labour Party/PA Wire)
Dr Dan Poulter signing his Labour Party membership form with Ellie Reeves (Labour Party/PA Wire)

“I feel changes to the Labour party made since 2019 under Keir Starmer are the sort of things that will make a big difference.”

He added: “I think Rishi Sunak should call an election tomorrow or as soon as possible.”

Wes Streeting, Labour's shadow health secretary, said Poulter's move reflected "disaffection and disillusionment felt by millions".

Mr Streeting told Sky News' Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips that the defection is 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," he said.

"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."

The Conservative Party hit back that Dr Poulter was “wrong” to say only the Opposition could improve the health service.

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick told BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg on Sunday that “Dan is wrong on the facts” and any “suggestion we don’t care about NHS is just plain wrong”.

Meanwhile policing minister Chris Philp has rejected Dr Dan Poulter’s assertion that the NHS is not a priority for the Tories.

“I don’t accept what Dan is saying at all,” he told Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg.

“We’re now spending £165 billion a year on the NHS, that’s more than ever, at any point in history,” he said, 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.”

Mr Philp also said he did not “accept” the former Tory MP’s claim that Rishi Sunak’s party no longer values public services.

“We do value what they 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.”

There is already speculation that a disastrous set of local elections results for the Tories in a few days’ time could galvanise unhappy backbenchers into moving against him.

Mr Sunak has insisted that he intends to call a general election in the second half of the year, but the fallout from the local elections could force his hand, either by leading to a challenge to his leadership or by persuading him that an earlier polling day could be a better solution than limping on with a divided party.

In an interview with Trevor Phillips aired on Sky News on Sunday, Mr Sunak again refused to rule out a July general election.

The Prime Minister said he would not “say anything more than I’ve already said”.

Labour leader Sir Keir said it was “fantastic to welcome Dr Poulter’s to today’s changed Labour Party” and that it was “time to end the Conservative chaos”.

Dr Poulter’s move is the second defection under Mr Sunak, after former Tory deputy chairman Lee Anderson left the party for Reform earlier this year.

The Telegraph reported that a group of Tory rebels have devised a plan to oust the Prime Minister and unite around Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt, though a source close to the Cabinet minister said “it’s total hogwash”.

“We’ve heard these rumours time and time again. Always lacking substance. Idle speculation is not helpful to anybody but those wishing to cause chaos,” the source said.

Dr Poulter was first elected to Parliament in 2010. He held his Central Suffolk and North Ipswich seat at the 2019 election with a majority of 23,391.

A Tory Party spokesperson said: “For the people of Central Suffolk and North Ipswich this will be disappointing news. What Dan says is wrong as Sir Keir Starmer has no plan for our NHS.

“Under the Conservatives we are raising NHS funding to a record £165 billion a year, helping it recover from the effects of the pandemic and driving forward its first ever long-term workforce plan so that we train the doctors and nurses we need for the future in our country.”