The polite, consensual air which has pervaded recent health select committee public sessions has been shaken by the strident, booming tones of its latest member, the partisan, uncompromising, right-wing Tory MP David Amess.
In one recent session, after an hour of well-mannered probing by his colleagues of health minister Alan Milburn, Mr Amess launched into the kind of jugular-directed assault normally reserved for the Commons chamber.
Weren't primary care groups about 'coercion' of GPs, unlike GP fundholding? Could the minister comment on why, in Southend, a single PCG had been 'imposed' against the local wish for two? Did he know the local PCG lay rep happened to be a Labour councillor?
In his pokey, goldfish bowl Westminster Street office a week later, the MP for Southend West was unrepentant. 'I am a conviction politician... I do not see my role as a member of the committee is to put aside my convictions,' he told HSJ.
'I'm proud of [the Tory] record on health, so I'm not going to sit there and allow witnesses to make unsustainable criticisms, and I'm not going to sit there lapping up the information given to me by those who support the Labour Party.'
Mr Amess sprang to prominence in 1992, when he held the marginal seat of Basildon, then seen as the touchstone of voter opinion. His victory signalled the Tories' triumph and gained Basildon notoriety as the home of Essex Man. Mr Amess himself seemed to embody Essex Man traits and beliefs: cockney, upwardly mobile working class, Catholic, Thatcherite, opposed to abortion and embryo experimentation, pro-death penalty, pro-tobacco advertising, anti-single currency, and anti-foxhunting. In many ways a natural ally, he warmly agrees, of shadow health secretary Ann Widdecombe. 'Although we are an unlikely pair, we are soul mates, agreeing on most issues.'
His first contribution to a recent health committee session on health and social care was to announce, rather disarmingly, that 'there is so much of this I don't understand'.
But he is not a complete stranger to health. In 1987, he had a whiff of government as PPS to the then junior health minister, Edwina Currie, in the old Department of Health and Social Security. He is knowledgeable on abortion issues, dyslexia, and hospital radio. He also jokes how, after five children, he could 'easily deliver a baby'. The Labour wit Tony Banks once presented him with a do-it-yourself vasectomy kit to 'reduce the strain on Basildon midwifery services'.
He is looking forward to the select committee's next investigation, into the NHS staffing crisis, and seemingly unconcerned that many of the current problems might be laid at the door of the previous government. 'I believe there's absolutely nothing to be ashamed of for what has happened in the NHS over those 18 years.'