Ludlow MP Phillip Dunne exits his job as health minister after gaffe – it is time for him to represent us, not himself

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:

By that time the damage was done. The story was picked up by the Telegraph, Guardian, Mirror, Sky News and many other media outlets. Social media was, as always, quick to comment:

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.[1]

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.[2] 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.

Notes

[1]. Source: Hansard.

[2]. 1 January 2010 is the earliest date that can be searched by MP in Hansard.

15 thoughts on “Ludlow MP Phillip Dunne exits his job as health minister after gaffe – it is time for him to represent us, not himself

  1. I am sick of allusions to hair colour, mode of dress, gender, height, size, and all the things that skirt around the really crucial things like ability, social awareness, understanding right across social classes and so on, so necessary in an effective politician.
    Why don’t we come straight out with it and say she needs more young, blonde, slim, good-looking women in her government, who wear clothes from particular designers and shoes from Jimmy Choo? Selection committees in every constituency must be short-listing plenty, ready for the next by-election since women with such attributes seem so necessary to good government.

    Some kinds of discrimination seem invisible to the critical eye. I find this kind only too impossible to miss.

  2. Andy , You have been more than fair in your summation of PD’s parliamentary career to date.
    PD has gone through the motions as a local MP with his surgeries and attendance of meetings, some of which he has had to be dragged to kicking and screaming to defend the undefendable as the party he represents has made one cock up after another.
    My own view is that he is a fence sitter and will follow the crowd rather than get into the brown and smelly and LEAD. After Matthew Green he has been a very pale imitation of what an MP should be .

  3. We have found Philip a very helpful MP . He replies with interest to points I raise with him. He also helped us during a very difficult time. However I 6was always disappointed that as Health Minister he was unable to comment on the situation with the CCG in Ludlow and Bridgnorth. Lets us hope he will now be able to represent us more freely on these contentious health matters. Ludlow’s health problem are a laughing stock amongst my friends around the country so I’m just hoping this will change.

  4. My immediate thought after hearing PD’s comments yesterday was after “seats if no beds”, was “What next? Musical chairs? At least it might chair up the Social Care situation, now that J the Hunt will be applying his privatisation fixation to that disaster as well”.

    At least the fact that he is still in post confirms the reality of the PM’s actual concerns for us plebs who can’t afford health insurance … as available to MPs thanks to the fact WE still pay the taxes we owe to the state.

  5. Now perhaps Mr Dunne will be able to address himself to the concerns of those in his constituency who did not ask to leave Europe.
    In Shropshire, of the total electorate eligible to vote, 44% voted to leave, 56% did not.
    In Ludlow itself, at the last council elections, the electorate had shown what they thought of the Conservative Government’s lemming rush to the Brexit cliff by filling their three places on Shropshire Council with LibDems.
    It is persistently overlooked that such a major constitutional change as leaving the EU is being made at the express request of, nationally, just 38% of the electorate. This is not democracy; this is the tail composed of a noisy vocal minority wagging the national dog, which does not wish to see the UK pull up the drawbridge and turn its back on our friends in Europe. It’s not only the profound diminution of trade (and the huge sums the Financial Sector renders to the government in taxes which pay for the NHS) that is alarming, it is also the regressive step of perceiving our co-Europeans as rivals – enemies, even, when most of us have enjoyed great benefits by sharing our governance with them.
    There are in Europe, as there are in Britain, many shortcomings in the workings of the European Parliament. The EU has been around less then 60 years; we’ve had 800 years since Magna Carta to construct our own much admired (if still flawed) system of democracy. We should have been showing Europe a lead, not sniping from the sidelines, represented by, among others, the embarrassingly ungracious (not to say downright ill-mannered) Mr Farage. You may recall how, after the speech of Herman Van Rompuy on 24 February 2010 to the European Parliament, Farage – to protests from other MEPs – addressed the former Belgian Prime Minister, claiming that he had the ‘charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of low grade bank clerk’ and asking, ‘Who are you? I’d never heard of you, nobody in Europe has ever heard of you.’
    It is puzzling the even a minority of British people allowed themselves to be swayed by such unpatriotic and loutish behaviour.
    Now Mr Dunne, who canvassed strongly against the vote to leave, can use the time on his hands after his departure from the Ministry of Health by standing up for and giving some leadership to the majority of the population who did not ask to leave the EU.
    And in the meantime, the Lib Dems can look around for a serious, impressive candidate to represent the many strongly pro-European members of this constituency, when Mrs May is finally obliged to recognise that her government’s efforts to leave Europe without wrecking our economy have failed.

  6. Just how much of a gaffe is it? in simple terms I think that Philip Dunne and his Conservative Party colleagues have not grasped the seriousness of the mayhem in the NHS and his statement, though horribly offensive, is probably the general view of the Tory MPs. Sadly, the managers and advisors within the NHS – our own local managers in particular, do nothing to disabuse this view, in fact they constantly spew out reassuring guff.

  7. Being a health minister is an impossible job and will remain so until the underlying issues are taken out of party politics. Philip Dunne is probably relieved to return to being a good constituency MP.

  8. I thought your comment on Philip Dunne at best disingenuous and perhaps a shameful example of party politics. Indeed Philip recognised throughout his constituency as an outstanding parliamentary MP. The gaffe you reported was no more than a well intentioned comment taken out of context. I have always found Philip available to discuss matters of Ludlow and Shropshire. Perhaps you have not attended his many surgeries.
    I do not recognise the “considerable frustrations” you instance if anything his responsibilities to South Shropshire were above any ministerial appointments. But by definition a fine balance to accomplish. I wish him well and know he will at all times
    have ALL his constituents foremost in his mind.

  9. Four facts for Mr Dunne

    Fact 1: Yesterday Shrewsbury Hospital had 70 beds too few to cope with demand.
    Fact 2: Mattresses were being brought in from paramedic vans to try to cope.
    Fact 3: They didn’t cope , so patients had to sit on chairs.
    Fact 4: Even after chairs had been taken from all possible places (nurses were having to stand up to write their reports) patients had to sit on the floor.

    Now your ministerial prospects are no more, Mr Dunne (oh yes , they are, you’ve been scapegoated despite your toeing of the party line- Mr Hunt was too difficult to sack) why not at last champion the needs of the people you represent. You might even enjoy it and gain their respect, and even be re-elected

    1. dreadful… however PD’s ministerial pension is safe – only threatened if he is actually sacked and he was given opportunity to resign.

  10. I doubt if Philip Dunne entered politics for his ministerial pension; and what about those libdems now occupying sinecures in the Lords and elsewhere, courtesy of their Conservative chums in coalition?

  11. If you understood how things work in Westminster, you would know that once one is a Minister of State that one does not speak in debates unless as a part of ministerial duties.

    I too have always found Philip available to discuss matters of the Ludlow Constituency and Shropshire.

    The situation in the NHS is not something new. Fifteen years ago in 2001, my father-in-law lay on a trolley with only a thin sheet over him in a chilly, drafty corridor at PRH for 4+ hours without even the offer of a drink of water while the staff tried to find a bed on a ward for him. One might wonder who was the Ludlow MP then and why they did not remedy these problems then … Oh yes, the name of the previously mentioned Matthew Green comes to mind.

    To blame the problems in the NHS on the current government is just another example of why the problems continue on and on and on. It is petty, partisan politics at its worst; looking only to place blame and score points rather than to work in a non-partisan collegial fashion to discover solutions.

  12. MP required to represent local issues especially to fight for NHS services in South Shropshire sadly I can only dream…

  13. Sorry, that should have read “Seventeen years ago” not “Fifteen” … bad proofing prior to hitting send

  14. It is a sad fact of life that there are more complainers than actual doers and unseemly comments about Philip’s departure to the back benches just serves to underline that point. It also drags up the unattractive side of party politics.
    Let us not forget that Philip increased his majority at the last election showing that he is a much liked and respected MP.
    As a relative newcomer to Much Wenlock, I have been proud that my MP has served in government in two important posts, and I say to those who find fault in his constituency style, I’m sure that we will now see him much more of him from the back benches.

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