The Doctor will see you now: Interview with Dr Paul Williams MP

08.12.17 / In: Comment

by Emma Burnell/ @EmmaBurnell_

Paul Williams has a cold. One can’t help but think that’s going to be one of the perils of the job of continuing to work as a GP while also starting his recently acquired role as an MP. Williams has the twinkly look of a TV doctor and the charm of a good constituency MP. He seems well settled into the role despite having deliberately not planned for a win. He recalls telling his partner Vicky that any time they spent planning for a role in Parliament before the election was time not spent on fighting the campaign. It wasn’t until the exit polls came out that he thought he might actually be in with a chance.

Born in Kent and brought up in East Anglia, Williams moved to the North East for university and never left. He’s worked as a GP in Stockton for many years. He believes that retaining this keeps him grounded. “In the North East, people tell it like it is and I like that.”

He also intends to keep his focus on health-related issues for now saying “I’ve got a lot to learn about politics and I thought if I start with health and then branch out, I won’t be having to learn my policy area at the same time.”

But we also joke that policy can be a bit like the You Tube rabbit hole where you go in looking at one thing and end up somewhere completely unexpected. So, he’s already looking at delays to Autism diagnosis NHS and he’s he talks passionately about early years education inequality.

Brexit is the biggest issue of our time

Brexit in particular is vitally important to both the health component of his role and the wider politics. He says the Brexit Bill is the biggest issue of our time.

“We need to get to a position where we protect all the great things about Britain, where leaving the EU genuinely makes things better. Nobody voted to become poorer or have an NHS that’s going to struggle.

“If it looks like those things are inevitable as a result of what we’re doing, we have to challenge the Government and ask serious questions about whether we’re doing the right thing. It feels to me like a lot of the things people voted for are undeliverable. I’d love to be proved wrong.”

Pragmatic Socialist

Paul Williams is not driven by an ideology, but by a strong sense of practicality and a belief in delivery. When he was asked about his ideological stance by his local paper, he described himself as a “Pragmatic Socialist”.
When I asked him to expand on what he meant by this, the answers were refreshingly unseminar-like. Instead of talking about his philosophy of government or politics, he told me of his experience of getting things done in his local area. His love of the NHS too is that of someone who has seen its best and worst qualities.
“if its free at the point of need and helps patients and if it happens to be delivered by somebody that’s not an NHS provider, that’s alright with me. I’m not going to be ideologically wedded to concepts. It’s about ‘what works’.”

This doesn’t mean he agrees with the internal market in the NHS, or the way some private providers behave. He cites his experience competing with a local consortium of GPs to run the local public health services and the difficult hoops they had to go through in competition for the contract as a waste of NHS time. So, while ‘pragmatism’ is often seen as code for Blairite or Centrist, on this occasion it seems to mean exactly what it ought to – a considered approach informed by real life experience.

What the f—k was I thinking?

Paul Williams is clearly a thoughtful person, which makes his response to my questioning his karaoke choices even funnier in their extremity. “What the f—k was I thinking?” he responds when I ask about the fact that he again told his local paper that Careless Whisper was his karaoke go-to. “I must have just heard it on the radio or something.”

At least we know from this he’s pretty unspun. Because throughout our interview he’s mentioned seeing some much cooler bands such as London Grammar and St Vincent (with Open Labour treasurer Alex Sobel MP). But as he’s clearly embarrassed by his loss of cool points I reassure him that if Careless Whisper is the worst thing he does in his time in politics, he’ll be doing a great deal better than many other members of the house, not least our somewhat beleaguered Prime Minister.

“Gosh what a hard job that is. You look at that poor woman… she just goes from one issue to another to another. It’s a massive strain on whoever does the job.”

Always something I desperately, desperately wanted

Williams is incredibly passionate about making a different in people’s lives and this is something we return to again and again in our conversation as he has throughout his career. As well as being a GP, he and his partner spent five years setting up health programmes in Uganda. He describes this time as incredibly rewarding but also the toughest thing they will ever do.

He has had an interest in politics for a long time (and was previously shortlisted in South Shields). “it’s always been something I desperately, desperately wanted.”

He believes that while politics has the ability to do great harm, it has the ability to do more good than anything he has ever done before.

“as a doctor, even a public health doctor, you can have an impact on thousands of people in your career… But if you get a change in the law right or if you lead systematic change, the positive impact can be on millions.”

It is that breadth of ambition matched with his pragmatic approach that will make Dr Paul Williams MP one to watch.

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