In what was an otherwise unfiery and forgettable PMQs, thankfully one member of parliament added a touch of drama. Without even ushering a word. 

Tory defector, Dr Dan Poulter, made his debut on the opposition benches today. 

The former health minister and part-time NHS mental health doctor crossed the floor at the weekend, after 14 years as the Tory MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, in anger over the Tory party’s handling of the NHS. 

And Keir Starmer wasn’t going to miss a chance to gloat about his newest recruit. 

He kickstarted the session by welcoming Poulter to the Labour benches – who in turn, smiled somewhat sheepishly. 

“When a lifelong Tory and doctor says that the only cure for the NHS is a Labour government, isn’t it time the Prime Minister admits he has utterly failed?” asked Starmer gleefully. 

“The only cure” was not an exaggeration on Starmer’s part. These were Poulter’s exact words. 

On Saturday, the 45-year-old penned a piece for The Observer in which he described his 20 night shifts over the last year in an overwhelmed A&E department as “truly life-changing”.

Accusing the Conservatives of no longer prioritising the NHS or having a “compassionate outlook”, he arrived at the damning conclusion: “It has become increasingly difficult for me to look my constituents in the eye, my medical colleagues in the eye and my patients in the eye with good conscience.”

Poulter will not seek re-election to the Commons at the next election for his Central Suffolk and North Ipswich seat, where he has enjoyed a 24,000 majority. Instead, he hopes to obtain a role advising the Labour party on its mental health policies. 

He is the first Tory MP to jump ship to Labour since Christian Wakeford, who joined the opposition in January 2022 in protest over Partygate.

When it comes to defections – especially ones involving an MP joining the ranks of a party expected to soon be in power – it’s difficult to distinguish opportunism from a politician taking a genuine, principled stand. 

Either way, the loss is a blow to Sunak. And the PM couldn’t resist having a swipe at Poulter’s apparent inconsistencies. 

“I’m glad to actually see him,” Sunak reported to Starmer. “That’s because he recently pointed out that residents of his local Labour council are, and I quote in his words, ‘charged much more in council tax but in return receive lower quality services.’”

After this, the conversation shifted. Poulter’s critique of Tory handling of NHS wasn’t a theme picked up on any further by Starmer. And even local elections – due tomorrow – barely featured in PMQs. 

Instead, Sunak and Starmer spent the bulk of the session rowing over which party cares more about pensioners. 

The Labour leader picked up on his line of attack from a fortnight ago, asking if the PM had found the money yet for his “completely unfunded £46bn promise” to scrap National Insurance.

Starmer accused him of trying to fund his spending plans by throwing pensioners under the bus: If NI was scrapped, “the value of the state pension would almost halve”.

Sunak told him to stop “scaremongering”, reminding the opposition: “We have increased pensions thanks to the triple-lock and that will rise in every year of the next parliament.” 

In fact, he added, it is Starmer’s “mentors”, Blair and Brown, who destroyed the pensions system.

All in all, the pensioner line of attack didn’t prove especially fruitful for the Labour leader. And the PM managed once again to dodge the question Starmer has been challenging him to answer for the last two months: how the Conservatives will fund their long-term plan, set out in Jeremy Hunt’s budget, to abolish employees’ national insurance. A proposal likely to cost £46bn. 

Poulter didn’t crop up in conversation again. But his choice of seat, directly behind Starmer, meant that his presence loomed over his ex-party for the remainder of the session. 

That said, Sunak might have taken some solace in the fact that the only recent defector who actually spoke during PMQs was an MP who now sits on the Tory benches. 

Lisa Cameron, who quit the SNP and joined the Scottish Conservatives last year in an unprecedented move, was cheered as she got up to congratulate the PM on his commitment to boost Britain’s defence spending. 

There are in fact some similarities between her and Poulter. 

Both have worked in the NHS – Cameron as a former psychologist. And both cited mental health as a key reason for the switch.

Though for Cameron, it wasn’t so much concern over her party’s handling of mental health services, but rather, the direct impact that the SNP’s “toxic” culture was having on her own. 

The East Kilbride MP claimed that, within the SNP’s Westminster group, she was a victim of “group bullying” and suffered panic attacks as a result. At the time, her defection was dismissed by first minister Humza Yousaf, as “what seems to be a rather odd tantrum”.

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