Phillip Dunne, our Ludlow MP, is from today no longer a health minister. It comes just a day after he made an uncharacteristic gaffe in the House of Commons. But few will be surprised that he has lost his job after a lacklustre performance in the health role.
Now we have an opportunity to have an MP that puts Ludlow first and a parliamentary career second. Will Philip take it?
Update: Philip Dunne’s statement on his resignation from government.
Dunne had an opportunity to shine yesterday. He took health questions in the Commons while his boss, the health secretary Jeremy Hunt, was arguing for his job in Number 10. But Dunne dropped a clanger with injudicious use of language. He was responding to a question from West Yorkshire MP Tracy Babin during a debate on the winter health crisis. She complained that her constituents were forced into lying on the floor in A&E because beds and trolleys were unavailable. Dunne said the situation was unacceptable. However, he also said: “There are seats available in most hospitals, where beds are not available.” This was Phillip Dunne’s “let them eat cake moment”.
It took three hours for Dunne to issue a clarification:
There has been considerable frustration in South Shropshire that Dunne seemed more intent on pursuing his ministerial career than promoting his constituency. A busy MP, he has organised jobs fairs, chaired a health forum and held constituency surgeries. He attended our public debates on health in Ludlow but never looked comfortable. He made clear he had a conflict between his role as a health minister and local MP over health. Of course, he could not interfere in local decisions as a health minister – but neither could any other MP. His weakness was that he seemed to believe that his role as minister meant that he had to mute his voice on local health in South Shropshire. We never knew whether he was representing. Was it us or the Department of Health?
That showed in his performance in the Commons. In 2017, Dunne made 248 contributions in the chamber. He made just two mentions of Shropshire, and none at all of Ludlow, Bridgnorth or Shrewsbury.
Locally, health was Philip’s Achilles’ heel. It has also proved to be his weak point in parliament where his steady, cautious style failed to make an impression as health minister. Nobody had noticed him until yesterday.
His style was more suited to his previous ministerial role as parliamentary undersecretary and minister for defence procurement from September 2012 to July 2016. He lasted less than two years in the health department. He never seemed particularly enthusiastic about the role.
Politics is a cruel business. People can be moved or sacked without great reason. Theresa May has heard the criticism that her government is too dominated by greying men in suits. She needs more women in post. She must identify innovators. People with lively voices. Dunne was never an innovator. He lacked vigour and challenge in his voice.
Philip Dunne now has an opportunity to become first and foremost a constituency MP. But I am not holding my breath for him speaking out for us in parliament. In the two years before he was appointed parliamentary undersecretary for defence in May 2012, he spoke just one once in the Chamber (and if I recall correctly he was substituting for someone else.) On that occasion, he said:
“I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and the Backbench Business Committee for giving me the opportunity to rediscover my voice in the Chamber…”
We need Philip now to discover his voice for our constituency. He has made 948 contributions in the chamber of the House of Commons since January 2010. But he has only mentioned Ludlow twice. That is a poor record for someone elected to represent our constituency.
Elected MPs need to be heard in the Commons as well as seen at local photo opportunities.
This can’t be an easy time for Philip. But it is an opportunity for him to become a local champion in the way that Daniel Kawczynski, Owen Paterson, Lucy Allen and Mark Pritchard have shown themselves to be. We need an MP that puts Ludlow first and a parliamentary career second.
. 1 January 2010 is the earliest date that can be searched by MP in Hansard.