By Tim Montgomerie
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The new Health Minister Anna Soubry gives an interview in today's Times (£). She's described as the "new Ken Clarke" and for good reason:
"The Conservative MP from Nottingham is a state-school-educated, clever barrister who loves cricket, beer and shoes. She’s straight-talking — “I hate bullshit: if you don’t know the answer, fess up,” she says. With a raucous laugh, a ballsy attitude and a wicked sense of humour, she seems normal… Mr Clarke, she says, is her inspiration. “I am from that side of the party. Ken is a hero, brave and with a brain the size of a planet.”"
She is, I predict, also going to follow Ken Clarke in another way. Anna "Knitting Needles" Soubry is going to be loved by the media for her straight-talking and anti-Right outbursts while she will be disliked (and envied) by many in her own party. She is already unpopular with some of her colleagues who allege that she shouts down critics of the Tory leadership at backbench 1922 meetings.
Three days after being promoted she's already courting controversy. She makes it clear in her interview with Rachel Sylvester and Alice Thomson that she's sympathetic to a right-to-die:
"“I think it’s ridiculous and appalling that people have to go abroad to end their life instead of being able to end their life at home.” She criticised the present law, urging greater “honesty” over when people would be prosecuted for helping relatives to die. She said: “The rules that we have about who we don’t prosecute allow things to happen but there’s a good argument that we should be a bit more honest about it.”
This is an extraordinary hot potato for any politician to touch and doubly so for a health minister. The BMA has recently affirmed the historic position in medical ethics that it is never right for a doctor to actively kill their patients, however sick or disabled. Most disability charities fear that a right-to-die will quickly become a duty-to-die as elderly or severely dependent relatives 'choose' assisted suicide because they no longer want to be a burden on their relatives and carers. The only protection against such pressures is the current law which forbids assisted suicide but, in practice, is compassionate to those who do end the lives of relatives.
In terms of becoming a thorn in the flesh of her colleagues my guess is that Miss Soubry may not be in the Commons for that long, however. Her parliamentary majority over Labour is only 389 votes. Given that she's likely to spend much of the next two-and-a-half years defending controversial health policies she will need a very good national performance from the party to save her. 8,907 of her constituents voted Liberal Democrat in 2010. Given Mark Gettleston's warning about Lib-to-Lab defections she really will struggle to hold her seat.
> Yesterday we posted a video of Anna "First Lady of Soap" Soubry's TV show days.