17 from '17: Paul Williams Thinks Too Much Foreign Aid Cash Is Spent On British Contractors

Stockton South's new MP is a practising GP who wants to run international development

The 2017 General Election saw 92 MPs elected to the Commons for the very first time. In a series of exclusive interviews, HuffPost UK is speaking to new MPs from the Conservatives, Labour, SNP and Lib Dems. This week, it’s Stockton South’s Paul Williams.

MPs are often lambasted for never having had a real job. That is not a criticism anyone can throw at Stockton South’s new Labour MP Paul Williams.

He is a practising GP, chief executive of a GP federation and spent five years in Uganda running a community hospital.

Sweeping aside Conservative James Wharton on a night when the swing in the Brexit-voting North East region was away from Labour, he is a well-known face in his constituency.

He is a patron of Stockton-based charity Justice First arts organisation, a board member of local volunteering organisation Catalyst and a trustee of a local arts centre.

The son of a teacher and a nurse, his political ambition is not to run the health service, however, but international development.

Dr Paul Williams Labour MP for Stockton South
Dr Paul Williams Labour MP for Stockton South
Rachel Wearmouth

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Canterbury but Dad got a teaching job when I was one in Wisbech – a small town on the Cambridgeshire/Norfolk border - and we lived there until I left home.

I ended up in the north after I went to Newcastle University to train to be a doctor. In my final year, I met Vicky, who was a nurse, and we’ve been together ever since. We have two little girls, Emeline, who is five, and Mira, who is two.

What did you want to be when you were 16?

A GP – but I was passionate about changing society then too. I learned about inequality and injustice and hoped aged 16 that I’d be able to change the world.

I went to a comprehensive and nobody from my school had ever gone to university. I was reasonably bright and I stood out in school because of that.

I worked hard and in my own mind I said that was because I wanted to be a doctor. It was like an excuse at first but it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

When did you first become interested in politics?

During the miner’s strike. I was only 11 but I could see the damage being done to communities by a Government that just looked at the economics and forgot about the people.

I believe in a fairer and more equal society. It sounds like a cliché but when power, wealth and responsibility are shared by the many not the few then it benefits all. I’ve always been politically aware and politically active so when the election was called I had enough credibility locally to stand.

A police line holds back miner's pickets at clashes at the Orgreave Coking Plant near Rotherham in 1984.
A police line holds back miner's pickets at clashes at the Orgreave Coking Plant near Rotherham in 1984.
PA Archive/PA Images

Who is your political hero?

Nelson Mandela. I spent a year aged 18 working as a volunteer in townships in South Africa. Mandela’s humility, generosity and gravitas are three things that I aspire to have but know that my version will never be a patch on his

Who is your favourite politician from another party?

Norman Lamb – he really cares about and understands mental health problems. He really gets it. It was one of those really unfashionable issues but lots of people are talking about it, and he really led on the issue.

From my own party, I was really honoured that Yvette Cooper came to watch my maiden speech. I’ve always been impressed by her intelligence and her grip for detail.

Norman Lamb, Lib Dem MP for Norfolk North.
Norman Lamb, Lib Dem MP for Norfolk North.
PA Archive/PA Images

What did you do before becoming an MP?

I’ve been a GP, the Chief Executive of a GP Federation, a VSO volunteer leading a health program in Uganda and a public health doctor. But I’m a keen sportsman too. I do triathlons and cycling challenges. I rode the whole length of the Tour de France unsupported a few years ago.

If you could run any Government department which would it be?

International Development. I’m worried about our entire relationship with the world.

We need to be really clear that the money we give to international development is a gift to other countries. It has to be targeted at the poorest countries and should be spent on whatever works to help them grow their way out of poverty.

My concern is that too much is being spent on British contractors like the Adam Smith Institute when we really should be building up capacity and enabling talent to develop and stay in poorest countries.

We should be working with European countries to collectively help the world’s poorest and our current antagonistic relationship threatens this, as well as our future trading relationship with the EU.

What was the last book you read? ‘The Day the Crayons Quit’. I read it to my kids last night.

Who is your favourite band/artist? Where to start? Bowie, Prince, Ash, Billy Bragg, Beyonce, Aretha Franklin, The Avalanches, Lorde, John Grant and the Stones. Can I have all of these please?

What’s your favourite film? I love the Coen Brothers so I’d have to say The Big Lebowski or Fargo (we’re watching the TV series of Fargo too).

What is the one thing you would change about UK politics if you could? I’d make it easier for everyone to vote.

Which three words would your best friend use to describe you? I played this game on a cycling trip through France with two of my best friends. They described me as passionate, playful and loyal.


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