This week has laid bare one of the great long term difficulties facing the major political parties, as polling published in the Guardian show voters thought all politicians look and sound the same. A suspicion then partially confirmed by a follow up showing the extent of centrally selected candidates for the upcoming General Election.
This disenchantment with professional politicians is something David Cameron tapped into before the last election with an experiment in open primaries for selecting candidates. It is through this route that the new Chair of the Health Select Committee and former GP, Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, took her seat in the house.
This is a Select Committee appointment which, despite brave faces, will surely see much slumping of shoulders in both Richmond House and No. 10.
At just the moment when healthcare had become a relatively quiet policy area in the run up the election the government find themselves with a chair who is not frightened to contradict ministerial colleagues. Even among a notably free-thinking Conservative backbench, Wollaston has established a strong reputation for speaking out against coalition health policy and traditional Conservative positions on relationships with business. In particular she has allied herself strongly with Ben Goldacre’s ongoing campaign for clinical trial data transparency and taken it on as a campaigning issue.
Wollaston takes on the role promising to ask “challenging questions” of the health service and with less than a year to make her mark the chances are high that industry will be called to give an account of itself to the committee. Perhaps even on a scale last seen during the excoriating 2004-5 health select committee inquiry, led by then out-going Chair David Hinchliffe. A monstering I had the dubious pleasure of experiencing as a press officer at the ABPI.
Certainly CCHQ will be hoping that her gaze falls here rather than another politically damaging autopsy of recent NHS reforms. With a further set of Conservative seats selected by open primary for the coming Election it might almost make a Prime Minister yearn for a bit more control.
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