From the Bar to becoming a government minister and back to the Bar again – David Lock QC has enjoyed a varied career, writes Enda Mullen.
In the annals of British political history David Lock will in part be remembered for losing his Wyre Forest Labour seat in a bitter battle over the downgrading of emergency services at Kidderminster General Hospital.
Having won the seat in 1997 Mr Lock lost out to Richard Taylor, the Independent Kidderminster Hospital and Health Concern candidate.
Though it came as no surprise to Mr Lock – he had warned Labour Party HQ he would lose the seat three years in advance of the 2001 election – he admits it was “a tough time” but there was a bonus when it came to his family.
“My daughter Pippa, who was four, went to stay with a friend overnight - the election was late in the night and we wanted to shield them,” he said.
“She was woken up in the morning, it was a school day she was half asleep and said ‘ did daddy win?’
“She was told ‘no he didn’t’ and she said ‘does that mean I get my daddy back?’.”
For Mr Lock it summed up the big downside of a life in politics.
“It is very time consuming and you miss out on children and family and the chance to do lots of other things because it is so time consuming,” he said.
“It was very difficult. I knew I would lose. In communication terms it was an unwinnable position.”
Reflecting on his short sharp exit from politics Mr Lock feels his position in support of the changes at Kidderminster Hospital has been vindicated over time as those changes have become the norm throughout the NHS.
He said: “About a year after the election Joshua Rozenberg did a piece in the Telegraph where he basically said ‘David Lock told the truth to his constituents and he lost his seat as a result’.
“He got into a lot of trouble as it was against the prevailing view at the time. But ten years on with all the hospital reorganisations there have been it is safer and it saves lives.
“You can have this dialogue now but people didn’t believe it then they thought it was all about cuts.
“I had the choice between being honest and telling constituents what the options were and trying to get the best of those that were realistically available, or pretending that we could leave things as they were which is what people wanted but couldn’t actually be delivered.”
Mr Lock remains proud of his time in government too.
He was appointed a Junior Minister in the Lord Chancellor’s Department in 1999, dealing with civil justice, legal aid, land registry and court services in Northern Ireland.
“When you are inside government you realise how difficult government is,” he said.
“Government is a series of nearly impossible decisions – choosing between not very attractive alternative options.
“No one would say Blair’s government made all its big calls correctly but it’s very easy to criticise and ignore the fact there were some very serious achievements in its period of office.
“I was there for things like the National Minimum Wage, the Freedom of Information Act and the creation of governments of Scotland and Wales - serious shifts in the relationship between government and the people.
“It was also a period of economic stability, growth, low unemployment, low inflation and substantial investment in public services and health. Looked at as a whole there was a lot to be proud of.
“My attitude is we didn’t get everything right but the Government did govern well and has a lot to be proud of in the round.”
Now head of the public law team at No 5 Chambers in Birmingham Mr Lock was made a QC in 2011 and was Birmingham Law Society’s “Barrister of the Year” this year.
A former theology student of Jesus College, Cambridge he moved to Birmingham in 1987 and practised at the Bar for ten years before being elected an MP.
The qualified paraglider pilot admits he has always had a taste for adventure, as demonstrated by a decision in 1990 to go cycling around the world - or at least a fair chunk of it.
“We went cycling round the world for a year from 1990 to ‘91, my wife Bernie who is a doctor and our 18-month-old daughter Becky in a trailer on the back of a bicycle,” he said.
“We started off doing Land’s End to John O’Groats – just to warm up. Then we went to America and cycled from Los Angeles to San Francisco, then inland. We cycled down the spine of the Rockies, then Mexico and Central America, then large bits of Australia.
“We just decided it would be a bit of an adventure. It was and great fun too.
“When we were travelling in Mexico we worked out that the bandits were always in the next valley.
“The people were fantastic. They would say ‘you’ve come from where? Here we are really kind and nice but where you’re going I wouldn’t go – they’re savages’. Then we would go there and have the same conversation..
“The bandits were always in the next place or wherever you’d come from - never where you were at that moment.
“Becky had a complete hoot sitting there and all you could hear was her singing The Wheels on the Bus. We would often just turn up somewhere and camp on the football pitch. When you have children there is instant bonding.
“We saw some fantastic sights which we would never have seen otherwise.”
When Mr Lock’s political career came to an end his family embarked on another travel adventure.
“We went off in a camper van around Europe for three months – listening to Stephen Fry reading Harry Potter,” he said.
“There were five of us by that time and the children were a bit older.
“We went all the way to Greece, spent a month there and came back through Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary, all sorts of interesting places and we tried to pick up some wine from each country we were in.
“I read lots and lots, we chatted and reconnected with the family - it was fantastic.”
Following this there were spells as chairman of the National Criminal Intelligence Service Supervisory Body and the joint chairman of the National Crime Service Supervisory Body.
When he decided not to return to the political arena he joined Mills & Reeve in Birmingham, heading its rapidly growing healthcare practice.
“It grew, it doubled or trebled in four years and ended up becoming a practice of 90 lawyers,” he added. “I was there until the end of 2007 when I decided to go back to the Bar.
The legal practice at Mills and Reeve had got so big I was essentially a manager. “It was performance reviews and tenders - all important stuff but it wasn’t what I got out of bed in the morning for ie giving legal advice and dealing with difficult cases.
“No 5 is head and shoulders the best public law set outside London so it was an easy decision about which set I moved to. The law I do now sits in that space between policy and politics.
“A lot of cases I deal with are about government powers and government decisions, consultation, changes to services.”
Mr Lock’s recent work has spanned everything from European Union law and police pensions to the Stafford Hospital inquiry and perhaps appropriately a lot of hospital reorganisations.
Reflecting on a highly successful and diverse career thus far, he said: “I have always lived in this slightly strange coexistence between the legal community, which is quite apolitical and the politics community, which is fairly agnostic about lawyers.
Lawyers generally tell politicians what they can’t do so there is an interesting tension between the lawyers and the politicians.
“Most careers are a series of accidents. I feel that’s what I have done. It has not been planned at all but has kept me interested. I can’t describe it as a planned career - I never work like that.”
Mr Lock also counts himself lucky, with the possible exception of a paragliding accident which saw him break both his legs and confined to a wheelchair for six months.
“It was quite interesting - I saw the world from a wheelchair and, in my experience, the British public are fantastic to people in wheelchairs.”