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The strange ways of politics

Michael Crick | 12:42 UK time, Monday, 4 April 2011

Will Richard Benyon win big brownie points in Downing Street over NHS reorganisation?

Richard Benyon? The Defra junior minister? What's he got to do with health? Let me explain.

The government's biggest Tory critic over the government's NHS changes has been Sarah Wollaston, the former GP who became MP for Totnes last May after famously being picked as Conservative candidate by local voters in an open primary in 2009.

Once elected, she soon became a vocal critic of the NHS changes, not least on Newsnight.

So much so, in fact, that I'm told that Prime Minister David Cameron was overheard to say in an unguarded moment in Downing Street: "I'll tell you what; we're not having any more open primaries!" And indeed the party's not having any more.

Dr Wollaston is a member of the Commons Select Committee on Health, and indeed with all today's attention to the NHS changes, and Tuesday's report from the select committee, one would expect to see the MP for Totnes a lot on our screens over the next 48 hours.

She certainly thinks the committee's recommendations would do a lot to improve the bill.

The only trouble is that Dr Wollaston has to welcome a junior minister to her Devon constitutuency today and tomorrow.

Yes, it's Richard Benyon. On a two-day ministerial visit to the green pastures of south Devon. And no doubt her party colleagues impressed on Dr Wollaston how discourteous it would be for her to not be in Totnes when Mr Benyon was there.

Even if, as parliamentary under-secretary at Defra, he is one of the most junior members in the entire government.

His visit will make it a lot harder for Dr Wollaston to do TV interviews.

It was arranged at the last minute, I understand, and had been postponed from an early date.


  • Comment number 1.


    Richard Benyon is the MP for my area (Newbury Berks). I will not desribe my experience of him, as the blogdog would auto-combust. Suffice it to say, if you want some insight into said 'Gentleman', you might try me.

    It is to Mr Benyon that I first made representation (BEFORE the 2010 vote) regarding the Conservative 'liar flyer'. He did not reply for a long time and then, when further prompted, sent a fatuous 'explanation' of its veracity, peremptorily closing the correspondence with this serf. I am in no doubt the flyer breaks the law - Representation of The People Act part 115. Strangeways?

    In passing: Richard Benyon is featured in the most recent edition of Private Eye. Nuff sed.

  • Comment number 2.

    He needs to be careful, this is prime farming territory and DeFRA is universally loathed for its mind-boggling incompetance over that mainstay of farm income the EU single farm payment. The incoming coalition promised to fix it but still haven't. If anything it's worse. It still is a bottomless pit of extravagant wastefulness where taxpayers money disappears back to Brussels in the form of massive fines for failing to pay the farmers anything. I hope he has a good story to tell.

  • Comment number 3.


    I have just re-read Dr Wollaston's Guardian article, where she detailed the attempt to knobble her via the PPS muzzle route. That she avoided the trap, suggest we MIGHT NOT HAVE GOT ANOTHER ONE in Sarah Wollaston.

    But who will win?

    Will the MINSTER MONSTER devour this well-meaning maid? Will the Monster (through the agency of Dastardly Dave) make her life so hellishly pointless, that she will up-with not put, and resigns? Or could she prove to be that crack in the Citadel's facade? Make it so.

    MICHAEL: your reading of the visit-timing, to gag Dr Wollaston, is shrewd. The smell from Westminster grows ever worse. Now wash your hands.

  • Comment number 4.

    Is this how a democracy works? Stuff the nonentity semi minister. Doctors are meant to know how to prioritise.

  • Comment number 5.

    Oh am sure any reporter worth his stuff could soon track her down in Devon ! They do have telephones there !

    And who said it was part of an MPs job to act as tour guide for a last minute visit which has obviiously only been scheduled to take up Dr Wollaston's time

    How much is this ministerial day out costing us?

  • Comment number 6.

    I have to agree totally with Barry Singleton. I too live in Michael Beynon's Newbury constituency and have found him also to be fatuous, a wonderful word, and totally unhelpful and condescending in issues for which I have asked for my MP's assistance.

  • Comment number 7.


    Here is Benyon in action in Parliament (it is typically fawning):

    Food Labelling Regulations (Amendment) Bill (1 Apr 2011)

    Richard Benyon: I pay a warm tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for
    South Norfolk (Mr Bacon) and applaud his tenacity in bringing this
    important subject before the House. He said that he was speaking as a
    non-lawyer, but he did not sound like a non-lawyer, although perhaps his
    use of the word "heebie-jeebies" took him some way from the legal
    lexicon he was using.

  • Comment number 8.

    I smell NHS 'reforms' disappearing into very long grass....

  • Comment number 9.

    "I smell NHS 'reforms' disappearing into very long grass...."

    Dead right! "On Pause 'till June"? - extend it a few weeks and they will be getting very close to the summer recess, and MPs will be planning their holidays, not attending to affairs of state at that time anyway. When they come back in October, there will be another crisis to attend to, or a war to fight, and nobody will remember anything about NHS reforms!


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