Another committee vacancy
- 4 June 2014
- From the section UK Politics
Here we go again.
The Speaker has just announced the arrangements for the election of a new Chair of the Health Select Committee - nominations will close on June 17th and MPs will vote on the 18th.
The sudden departure of Stephen Dorrell means another means another plum Westminster job has become available, only a short while after Rory Stewart's surprise seizure of the Defence Committee Chair.
To be sure, the winner of the ensuing "by-election" would have something less than a year in office - and there would be no guarantee that they would be re-elected to the Chair in the 2015 Parliament - but given the huge political tensions around the NHS, it is still a role worth having.
The lesson of Mr Stewart's victory is that it is possible for a non-member of the Committee and a member of the 2010 intake to win against longer-serving insiders.
And there does seem to be an appetite for a change of direction - a point noted in Mr Dorrell's resignation letter to the Speaker:
" I believe it is becoming obvious that in future we shall need to think in a completely different way about how they are best met and I have concluded that in a pre-election period I can make a more effective contribution to this developing thought process from a less overtly political position. "
There does seem to be an appetite for a change among at least some committee members - with some keen to be seen as on the side of the practitioners rather than the management elite of the NHS (the committee shadows the work of the Department of Health - which means mostly the NHS in England).
There's a feeling that doctors and nurses and other medical professionals are increasingly alienated from the NHS management structure and that the committee is seen by them, too often , as part of the establishment and therefor part of the problem. It could, for example have gone in much harder in recent inquiries, particularly the one on NHS whistleblowing, the critics complain.
Indeed there is some appetite for voting in a practitioner who will have the credibility to do just that
Inside the committee there is the formidable Dr Sarah Woolaston. I don't know if she's even considering running but she would probably be able to attract some Labour support having cut her teeth criticising the Health and Social Care Bill, early in this Parliament.
But that also resulted in some Conservative resentment and her recent role in the Nigel Evans case has probably not helped her.
Outside, there is Dr Phillip Lee, who is a confirmed candidate, already seeking signatures on his nomination form.
He is well aware of the need to attract cross party support, not just to get elected, but to mobilise a consensus for necessary NHS reforms like hospital reconfiguration (it's very hard for an MP in a marginal seat to argue for moving their local A&E further away, for example).
Earlier this year he braved some criticism to put down an amendment to the Immigration Bill calling for the Government to have the power to test immigrants for infectious diseases like HIV or Hepatitis - a direct result of his experiences as he continues to practice medicine in an Urgent Care Centre.
The job is only open to Conservatives, under the post-election share-out of Committee chairs.
In the Defence Committee election, the Conservative Julian Lewis had high-profile support on the Labour benches - but it wasn't quite enough to win. Rory Stewart won on a reputation for independent-mindedness and the solidarity of 2010 intake colleagues.
Maybe that's the profile for the winner of this next election?