“Everyone knows what it looks like to have a good local GP, and that should be the same for a good local MP: standing up for people and looking after them,” says local doctor Luke Evans. To make the transition from GP to MP, the Conservative candidate for Birmingham Edgbaston needs to gain a 1.1% swing against Labour incumbent Gisela Stuart. I met Dr Evans in The Junction, a pub in Harborne, to talk about Conservatism, the NHS, and his campaign.
Of the various “levels” as to why Evans wants to get involved in politics, the “most political” is that “Working in the NHS, you are constrained a lot by red-tape and you look around and think, ‘hang on, what’s going on here?’ I believe that the way the law should work is that it should be there to create a foundation that is equitable, but unleash potential.”
The NHS has a large influence on the area; located in the constituency is the Queen Elizabeth Hospital which is one of the world’s largest, and close by is the University of Birmingham’s Medical School, where Dr Evans received his training. During his time at the Medical School, Dr Evans was vice president of the student body, and “did a lot of singing and acting and acting and enjoyed the community spirit.” It is a similar sense of community that the candidate places at the core of his policy platform. His third main reason for getting involved in politics relates to his job as a GP; “being a doctor is about caring for the people around you and what is going on.”
The role of compassion is something Dr Evans believes has sadly been “missed out” from discussions of Conservatism; “it’s a great cliché but with great power comes great responsibility”. When I asked him to explain further, and questioned why he decided to join the Conservative Party he replied, “I do believe in things like a strong economy and lower taxation, but those things are tribal answers that people tend to trot out.
“For me, three things make me a Conservative. The first thing is meritocracy: you’ve got to aspire to be the best person for the job. Behind that is aspiration: it doesn’t matter where you come from, it’s about where you want to go. That ties it with meritocracy, because if you are good enough you will get there. And then there’s the attitude to go with that: there is a sort of X-factor attitude where people come out of a job and expect something to fall on their plate. You can’t expect a million dollar singing contract just because you have sung in your shower. The people who are successful have done a lot of background work to get there.”
Turning to debates over the NHS, Evans acknowledges that structural changes have to be made to the organisation; “By 2060 our entire GDP will be spent on healthcare if we carry on the way that we are going.” He argues that doctors must be given a greater role because of their on the ground insight; “As a doctor I know that if I’m seeing someone now for half an hour instead of ten minutes, then I am saving myself a longer amount of time in the future. That’s critical insight which can’t be seen from just the pure numbers.”
The failure of the Conservatives to implement NHS reform in the last Parliament was, in Evans’ view, due to a failure of communication: “A lot of the older generation of doctors said that they had seen three recent top-down reorganisations and everyone had been difficult for both sides… [the] Conservatives should have said that these were the changes that had to made, and these are the reasons for doing so.”
GPs are self-employed which Dr Evans remarked gives him the necessary “flexibility” to run the on-the-ground campaign which is crucial to be in with a chance of winning in a marginal seat. However, he notes that it is not only his time on the door step which provides an opportunity to learn about what is going on in the area; “Especially when you work in the constituency as a GP, a lot of the stuff that comes through your door is political, even if it is not political with a capital ‘p’.
“There’s politics: how people are dealing with their welfare, how is their health; 15-20% of GP’s work is dealing with social problems, be that stress or anxiety, depression. You have an automatic plug into what goes on in the constituency.”
Turning to the Birmingham Edgbaston incumbent, Gisela Stuart, he notes that she is “very well respected and is level headed which is a good thing” but that “[she’s] been there for seventeen years, maybe it is time for a change”.
Stuart, who won the Spectator’s Survivor of the Year award after the general election in 2010 for only suffering a 1.3% swing away from her and actually managing to increase the number of votes she received compared with the 2005 election, would appear to be an opponent well skilled in electoral campaigning. Evans, however, is optimistic of his chances; “People often say ‘You’re against Gisela, who has been there for the last seventeen years.’
“But then I say ‘Can you name me the top three things she has done for you in those seventeen years?’ And most people say, ‘Oh ok, not quite so sure now.’” Nevertheless, the Conservative candidate concludes by saying that he is not concentrating on his opponent, but “what I can do and my approach.”
Part of that approach is focusing on issues of public engagement and promoting voter turnout; “65% people turn out, but that means we should be asking why the other 35% aren’t turning out.” He argues that public dissatisfaction with politics stems from politicians’ poor communication with their constituents, in that he believes certain politicians are not prepared to answer constituents’ questions without second guessing the view of the voter and adapting their own response accordingly: “If I were to speak to my patients the way politicians speak to constituents, then you wouldn’t be happy. You need to say what you think and why you think it.”