Leading Tory MP defecting to Labor with fury over NHS crisis

A Tory MP and former health minister has staged a dramatic defection to Labour, saying the Tories have become a right-wing nationalist party that has abandoned compassion and no longer prioritizes the NHS.

Dr Dan Poulter, MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, who works part-time as a mental health doctor in an NHS hospital, announced that he would stand down as a Tory MP and carry the Labor whip until the next general elections exclusive elections. interview with him Observer.

He said he would not seek re-election to the House of Commons at the next general election. But, writing to observer, says he envisages a role advising the Labor party on its mental health policies while focusing more on his NHS work.

Poulter said his experiences of more than 20 night shifts over the past year in a highly exaggerated accident and emergency department had been truly life-changing and persuaded him to defect to the only match he believed he was now in. truly committed to investing in improving the NHS.

He said: I could not continue as part of this. I need 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 Tory government has failed in what I care most about, which is the NHS and its patients.

The Observer It is understood that discussions between Poulter and senior Labor officials have been ongoing for many months at the highest levels over the timing and organization of his likely defection, as well as the advisory roles he might play in future development of the health policies of the parties, with the benefit. of his first-hand inner knowledge.

Poulter as health minister in 2013: He said his parties’ values ​​had changed since David Cameron left as prime minister. Photograph: Anna Gordon/The Observer

The defection, however, has been kept in the strictest secrecy, with only half a dozen people in the party knowing it was coming before the Observer gave the news

Poulter, a One Nation Conservative on the left of the party, has regularly made clear his disquiet about the direction of government policy since David Camerons prime ministership, and is understood to have been frustrated by the lack of interest from subsequent Conservative Prime Ministers in their views on NHS Reform.

The shock defection, the first by a Tory MP to Labor since Christian Wakeford crossed the floor in 2022, is another blow for Rishi Sunak ahead of Thursday’s council and mayoral elections, in which he is expected to that the conservative party loses up to half of its remaining premises. seats of authority.

Heavy losses and a failure to hang on to key mayoralties such as the West Midlands and Tees Valley are likely to re-open speculation about a possible pre-election leadership challenge to the Prime Minister.

In the run-up to the next general election, the future of the NHS will be a vital battleground, and Labor is known to be keen to use Poulters’ knowledge to full effect.

Poulter was first elected to parliament in 2010 and served as health minister under Cameron from 2012 to 2015.

Since then, he says, he has seen a progressive rightward drift in party politics and thinking that has made him increasingly uncomfortable.

He described the brief and disastrous Liz Trusss as a devastating moment for party moderates like himself and middle-earth voters. It is very hard to forget that, he said, adding that his constituents had been directly impoverished as a result of Truss’s mistakes on the economy.

Conservative party values ​​have changed over the past eight years, he said. The values ​​of the Conservative party under David Cameron were different values ​​and the priorities were very different. David Cameron certainly had a very strong commitment to the NHS.

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Since he ceased to be prime minister eight years ago, the health service has ceased to be a priority area for the Conservative party, and this is now showing in the strain on the frontline and the deterioration of patient care.

He added: It seems to me that the Conservative party has gone from being a pragmatic, centrist, centre-right party that focused and understood the importance of the public service and the state to deliver certain things and had a compassionate view of the key issues . It has moved on from that and seems to have become a right-wing nationalist party, much more so than we see in Europe.

Poulter, then a Conservative candidate, was going to vote in the 2010 election. Photograph: NearTheCoast.com/Alamy

It doesn’t mean everything [Tory] Deputies are like that. There are good MPs, but he feels that the party is always moving to the right, always presenting a more nationalist position rather than a position that really focuses on what a lot of people want to see, which is a level of compassion of the government, but also good. – Manage public services.

Poulter said he wished Sunak well in a very difficult job and that the prime minister had always been very civil with him.

But he praised Keir Starmer for reforming the Labor party since 2019 and for his clear commitment to the ideals of the public service. In the case of the NHS, he said, the parties’ focus on preventive care, child health and the social causes of ill health were key.

One of the things I really like about Labour’s policy on the NHS is the focus on the social determinants of ill health and recognizing that tackling poverty, poor housing, all these issues, particularly giving more opportunities to children from poorer backgrounds and focus on children. hello, he said. This is something that Labor understands that the Conservatives really don’t and this, to me, is something that makes Labor the party that can be trusted to deliver the reforms needed to bring the NHS back to life.

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