The MP Interview: Sarah Wollaston

On going from GP to MP, social care, and tired expenses gags.

Sarah Wollaston.
Sarah Wollaston, Conservative MP for Totnes.

What made you go into politics?
I had always enjoyed being a doctor but felt there were some things, like the fallout from alcohol, that had to be tackled at a national level. I wanted to bring some real life clinical experience to Westminster and use that to try to influence health policy. Since the election I have spent two years campaigning on alcohol related harm and hope that has helped to make a difference. I'm also from South Devon and felt that parliament needed more MPs who love and understand the countryside.
 
What job did you do before you became an MP?
I was a frontline GP, teaching junior doctors and medical students and an examiner for the Royal College of GPs. For many years I was also a forensic medical examiner for Devon and Cornwall Police seeing victims of sexual violence. I'd never been to a political meeting but was always interested. I wouldn't have applied if David Cameron hadn't encouraged people like me to do so and I hope that the next election doesn't see political novices excluded. We won't address the need to bring more women into politics unless they are encouraged to apply.
 
Which law would you scrap?
I'd like our fish back. The common fisheries policy has been disastrous for fish stocks and fishermen alike but of course there is little that Westminster politicians can do about that or about the common agricultural policy so it would have to start with loosening our ties with Europe.
 
And if you could pass one law, what would it be?
We need to get on with the reform of social care. The problem is not just financial as so much is wasted. The current system is letting down older people and is grossly unfair.
 
Do politics and religion mix?
Badly. Politicians too often avoid difficult issues for fear of upsetting religious sensitivities. The recent vote to block clear labelling for ritually slaughtered meat was a case in point. I'm neither religious nor a militant secularist but do feel that hard won freedoms for women are under threat from fundamentalists of all persuasions.
 
Who is your favourite prime minister from history, and why?
Churchill for his leadership, determination and wit . . . but would the nation's saviour have survived under today's fierce spotlight? Would any historic Prime Minister?
 
Name three dream dinner-party guests.
I'm a morning person and breakfast with Emmeline, Sylvia and Christabel Pankhurst would be on my list. They transformed lives and expectations for women but at great personal cost and sometimes at the expense of those closest to them like Adela.
 
Which politician from a different party do you most admire?
Jack Straw, for his clarity and independence. It's a pleasure to listen to him debating.
 
What’s your karaoke song of choice?
"Sisters are doin' it for themselves". Lennox/Franklin please, and even better without me joining in
 
What’s the last film you saw?
Hunger Games with my teenagers . . . politicians next up in the arena.
 
What’s the last work of fiction you read?
The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry; why does any book described as "astonishing" on the cover usually turn out to be as slow and predictable as a Greek exit? If I wanted to read a book again, I'd choose Atonement by Ian McEwan.
 
Newsnight or Question Time?
Newsnight. Question Time has become a showcase for party line soundbites.
 
Humphrys or Paxman?
Paxman please - but prefer supper to grilling.
 
Who is your favourite blogger?
I start the day with Ben Brogan and Paul Waugh.
 
Who is your favourite newspaper columnist?
Boris: solid but digestible analysis, and entertaining too.
 
If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be?
So much better use could be made of MPs' experience and interest but the whip and patronage have Westminster in their grip. It is the only job I've done for which there is no training or development. It is entirely without boundaries.
 
What’s the funniest or saddest thing you’ve ever heard at a surgery?
Can someone please come up with a new gag about expenses.
 
What was your worst doorstep campaigning moment?
Meeting a group delivering BNP leaflets; they probably hadn't read them as they spoke very little English
 
Who is the most important person in your life, and why?
Adrian, the world's best husband, front of tandem, chef, entertainer and psychiatrist. Our children too.
 
Do you think you will ever be prime minister – and if not, why not?
No vacancy likely and the incumbent is better..