Politicians beware! Doctor will see you now

Patrick Burns
Political editor, Midlands

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
Dr David Nicholl is now the Lib Dem candidate in Bromsgrove, a seat held by Chancellor Sajid Javid

Trust me I'm a doctor

What is it about doctors and politics? Maybe it's the profession's general reputation for unimpeachable respectability that confers so much authority on them.

Without really trying I can reel off the names of just some of those who have gone on to forge careers at Westminster: Liam Fox, David Owen, Dan Poulter, Michael Winstanley, Robert Winston, Sarah Wollaston.

And no doubt you can think of many others yourself.

What's more, there's a long line of party politicians who have been at the sharp end, having been identified as suitable cases for treatment by the politico-medics.

Spin doctors

Image caption,
Labour's David Lock, pictured here in 1997, lost his seat to ex hospital doctor Richard Taylor

Take two examples from north Worcestershire of how the two professions are intertwined.

Medicine certainly turned toxic for Wyre Forest's Labour MP David Lock two decades ago when the former hospital doctor Richard Taylor captured the seat on a tide of public indignation over the closure, proposed under Tony Blair's government, of Kidderminster's District General Hospital.

Dr Taylor achieved the remarkable distinction of not merely keeping the hospital open, but also of serving two consecutive terms as the Independent MP.

His colleagues in Independent Health Concern seized control of Wyre Forest's District Council as well.

It was not until 2010, when the Conservatives once again became Westminster's largest party, that Wyre Forest reverted back to them: the Tories had long considered it a relatively safe seat up until Mr Lock's triumph in the 1997 Labour landslide.

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
Richard Taylor successfully campaigned to keep open Kidderminster's District General Hospital

Having been defeated when Dr Taylor won his second term in 2005, Mark Garnier finally exacted his revenge in 2010 and has remained the Conservative MP ever since.

But Wyre Forest's place in this epic medical drama cannot be erased.

To quote one of my news reports from Kidderminster at the time: "It shows how a health issue can cut through to the heart of a community's politics like nothing else."

Referred pain

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
Ex Conservative MP Julie Kirkbride stood down in the wake of the expenses scandal

At exactly the same time, nerve endings were becoming equally frayed in the next-door constituency of Bromsgrove.

During those years leading up to that 2010 general election, another hospital doctor was doing his rounds.

A consultant neurologist at City and Sandwell hospitals, Hagley-based Dr David Nicholl had already become known locally as an Amnesty International campaigner against the USA's treatment of detainees in Guantanamo Bay.

But by the late 'noughties his prime target was closer to home: his local Conservative MP, Julie Kirkbride.

Remember, the Commons expenses scandal was at its height. Dr Nicholl was among Ms Kirkbride's fiercest critics as public pressure intensified over her accommodation claims.

Image caption,
Conservative Sajid Javid will hope to see off the challenge of Dr Nicholl in any future general election

Six months before polling day she was forced to announce she would be standing down.

Four months after it, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards cleared her of any wrongdoing and dismissed the complaints against her.

But by then Bromsgrove's new Conservative MP Sajid Javid was establishing himself as one of the top talents in the 2010 intake, clearly destined for high office.

Having unintentionally helped to clear the way for the future chancellor's arrival in Bromsgrove, Dr Nicholl is now bidding to stop the chancellor in his tracks.

Parliamentary prognosis?

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
Mark Garnier won the Wyre Forest seat in 2010

Still a committed campaigner, this time for the cause of Britain remaining in the EU, Dr Nicholl was recently selected as the Liberal Democrats' candidate to stand against Mr Javid in Bromsgrove.

The Tories may have a 16,000 majority there, but Mr Nicholl's party leader Jo Swinson told me last month politics is undergoing a "seismic change" as Remain sentiment strengthens in the face of what she sees as the threat of No-Deal.

For Remain supporters in Bromsgrove, Dr Nicholl's appeal is obvious.

It was his warning about post-Brexit disruption to medical supplies, revealed in the leaked Yellowhammer Report, which triggered the first major political storm of this unpredictable autumn.

Dr Nicholl says patients could well be harmed or may even die if deliveries of their medications are delayed.

He also accuses the government of "winging it" as they prepare for the various medical eventualities.

Repeat prescription?

Just to add to the intrigue, some of the strands of this 20-year drama will be brought back together this weekend when two of the principal actors join me in the studio: Mr Garnier, bidding to be re-elected for a fourth term as Conservative MP for Wyre Forest, and Dr Nicholl, hoping to claim one of Westminster's most famous, gleaming, scalps.

Also with us will be another top professional. Not, this time, a medic but a barrister; Shabana Mahmood, the Labour MP for Birmingham Ladywood. And yes, there are lots of lawyers in the Commons too.

But that's another story...

Sunday Politics Midlands is on BBC One in the West Midlands at 10.00 BST this Sunday, 13 October, and available to watch afterwards on iPlayer.