Sarah Wollaston: You ask the questions
Sarah Wollaston, Conservative candidate for Totnes, answers your questions including: Why did you join the Tories? And who is the most fanciable frontbencher?
Monday 24 August 2009
If open primaries are such a good idea, why has it taken this long to institute them?
I know that there have been concerns about open primaries being at risk of sabotage by opposition parties or even of hijack by candidates with too much cash. In the case of Totnes, the Liberals did call for voters to back one of the other candidates and it backfired rather badly for them. I spent nothing on my campaign and still came first, so perhaps those fears are unjustified and we should look to having more open selections; they are certainly popular with voters. I hope my experience will encourage others to consider a career in politics even if they have no track record in local government.
When did you join the Tories? And which conservative philosophers have been your biggest intellectual influences?
I joined three years ago, impressed by David Cameron's fresh approach. As a One Nation type of Conservative, I would have to go back to Disraeli but my biggest intellectual influences are really scientists more than politicians.
If your party is truly the 'party of the NHS,' why do you think it repeatedly voted to block its foundation immediately after the war?
The Conservative Party today looks very different to the post-war party. You would really have to ask someone from that era why they voted that way at the time.
Do you think GPs should work on Saturdays?
I do work some Saturdays already. The point is that many more GPs would have been happy to have been given the flexibility to rearrange their working weeks to accommodate more Saturday surgeries. Instead they were arm-wrestled into providing extra hours in order to maintain their current incomes, and those extra hours had to be outside normal working hours. GPs have to pay their own staff to cover those surgeries and that will always be more expensive at weekends. It would have been far better just to have asked GPs to provide surgeries on Saturdays and left it for them to rearrange their working weeks. Instead we have most surgeries offering extra appointments at times that are less convenient for patients and exhausting for doctors that have already been working a long day. Basically, we have a government that tries to micromanage the Health Service rather than setting priorities and letting GPs find their own solutions.
Is Dan Hannan right when he says the NHS has been a 60-year mistake? And what do you think it does very badly at the moment?
When my mother thought she was safely in remission from ovarian cancer a few years ago, she went to visit my brother in Arizona. Unfortunately she developed severe complications from secondaries and was taken to hospital. Of course, she found her insurance did not cover her and it was made very clear to us all that inability to pay would mean a basic resuscitation and a trip to the front door in a wheelchair. This is a situation faced by thousands of Americans every day and I cannot remember being more grateful for our NHS than when we arrived back at Poole General Hospital (where incidentally there were no notices on the front door banning handguns 'past this point' and no armed guards patrolling the corridors). The NHS is no mistake, but like any large organisation it can feel cumbersome and inflexible at times. Ask anyone who works in the NHS and they will be able to give you suggestions as to how we can make it better. We need to keep focusing on patients' experiences and ways of easing the bottlenecks in the delivery of care.
Which parliamentarian do you most fear?
I can't say that I fear any parliamentarian.
Do you think the time limit on abortions should be lowered, to around 21 weeks?
I am strongly pro-choice as far as abortion is concerned and do not think that the law should be changed from the current limit. From my own experience as a doctor, I know that women never take this decision lightly and that late terminations are the exception rather than the rule. Lowering the limit would restrict the ability to carry out terminations for those who are often in the greatest need and I would not support it.
How comfortable are you with the fact that across the South-West, and the county generally, swing seats are being bought for your party by a Belize-based billionaire businessman who doesn't pay tax in this county (Michael Ashcroft)? Do you call that clean politics?
I think that contributions to political campaigns should be transparent, whoever is making the donation and to whatever party. I would not wish to see anyone elected simply because they had a greater budget. As for Michael Ashcroft, it would be wrong for me to comment as I do not have all the facts.
Do you find David Cameron's rebranding of the Tories mostly patronising or comical? I wonder how women like you, Chloe Smith and Sayeeda Warsi, chosen because of their gender rather than competence, cope with such an insulting selection process.
There was nothing insulting about my selection process. Totnes had over 100 applications which were shortlisted by the local party, first down to five and then to three, of mixed gender and then the entire electorate was given a choice. As for the issue of rebranding, I found it neither patronising nor comical; I thought it essential. I know that there was much sneering at "hug a hoodie," but this missed the point that the Conservative Party was in danger of being completely unelectable by young voters and needed to show that it had changed. It really has changed, and that's in part the reason I felt comfortable signing the dotted line.
Of all the things that Anthony Steen (the previous MP in Totnes) has said, which do you find the most offensive?
Most people are ready to move on from this. Anthony is still their MP, I am simply the prospective candidate.
Don't you think the expenses saga proved that class is alive and well in Britain? Most of the Tory squirearchy were claiming for things the rest of us thought belonged to the Victorians.
Wasn't there something about a moat and a liberal candidate in the Norwich North by-election? No, I don't think politics is about class; all parties suffered as a result of the expenses saga but unless we stop kicking politicians, who will want to apply?
Who is the most fanciable Tory frontbencher?
There's far too much choice!
What items do you expect to claim on expenses in your first six months?
I am happy to await the independent review and do not expect to claim more than reasonable living costs and travel.
Do you own an iPod? What's on it?
I have an iPhone, and right now on my favourites I have Annie Lennox, Norah Jones, Clive Gregson and U2.
Have you ever taken Class A drugs or smoked cannabis? If not, why not? And if yes, when did you do it and did you enjoy it?
The answer is never. It was made very clear to us on our first day at medical school that there would be zero tolerance to drug use and I never felt the need to try.
Which Labour politician are you most excited about getting to know personally?
I'm looking forward to chatting to Gordon on the backbenches, as soon as possible.
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