MAYOR ELECTION: Children’s doctor promises grown-up politics with ‘compassion, co-operation and community’
Taking over as Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough will be far from child’s play for Dr Nik Johnson, but the pediatrician is promising grown up politics with “compassion, co-operation and community”.
The 51-year-old children’s doctor at Hinchingbrooke Hospital may be third favourite for the vote in May, but he believes his 30 years in the NHS (including front-line experience of the coronavirus pandemic) would count for a lot if he is elected.
The Labour and Co-operative candidate became involved in politics in 2010 as he “recognised there would be a huge change in the way public services and the NHS would be run,” and since then he has become a district councillor and stood in two General Elections.
But taking on Conservative incumbent James Palmer will not daunt the dad of three after a year like no other which has only hit home how important it is to tackle public health “emergencies” such as poor housing.
In an interview with the Peterborough Telegraph, Newcastle United fan Dr Johnson, who grew up in the North East before training in London, said: “I have seen things (this year) I never thought I would see in my almost 30 years of experience.
“I want to be the voice of let’s take what we’ve learnt and make it a better place from that.”
The role of mayor is arguably the most important across the county, with the elected official in charge of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority which has been given large government funding to implement major transport and housing initiatives, as well as a leading role in delivering adult education and supporting businesses.
But despite the high profile nature of the job Dr Johnson refuses to criticise Mayor Palmer, who became the first metro mayor for the area in 2017.
Asked how he rated Mayor Palmer’s three-and-a-half years in office so far, Dr Johnson replied: “I’ve made a point that in all the campaigns I’ve ever done I’m not there to criticise the opposition, it’s for the opposition to explain their successes. I’m looking at where things can be made better.
“But where I would make an observation is that the combined authority has not maximised the potential that the devolution deal promised us.
“The co-operation to get the best out of the sum of its parts has not been there. I don’t think after four years the people who have been represented, if asked on the street, would know, in your words, the most powerful person in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.”
As a district councillor who has twice stood to be MP for Huntingdon (which saw Labour’s share of the vote rise from 11 per cent to 31 per cent), Dr Johnson does not have huge political experience.
But he believes he is more than qualified for a high-profile role which includes regular contact with government officials and leading powerbrokers.
“I’m the sort of person who has spent my whole career looking at problems, balancing up risk and benefits in terms of medical treatments, and having to make difficult decisions,” he replied.
“It’s something which is within my DNA to by analytical, and I think I bring a new way of looking at politics.”
Dr Johnson wants to bring closer collaboration among local stakeholders to improve life outcomes, including for residents in Peterborough living in highly deprived areas.
It was revealed recently that the poorest residents in Peterborough have a life expectancy 10 years below those living in the most affluent areas of Cambridge.
Asked what he would do for Peterborough people struggling financially and medically, he stated: “If you want to develop a healthy living way you need to look at investment into things like cycling and making it a benefit to families to make choices to improve their health.
“Then you look at issues around education. What is stopping people from improving their own positions? Is it lack of jobs? Making sure children’s centres are provided for - it’s looking at all of those things.
“If we’ve not got enough housing and people are living in cramped conditions, that’s not going to get the best out of them. If we have better social housing then people aren’t going to live in such cramped conditions.
“It’s understanding that unique link between health outcomes and how, by improving the health of your population, you can improve the productivity.”