The Ten Commandments – If they were written by bag-carriers for MPs

Scene from Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments, Photographs of the filming of Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments, PC-RM-Curtis, courtesy, California Historical Society, PC-RM-Curtis_587.
Scene from Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, Photographs of the filming of Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, PC-RM-Curtis, courtesy, California Historical Society, PC-RM-Curtis_587. Edward S. Curtis. 1923

And the bag-carrier turned, and went down from the House of Commons library where he had been labouring over research all afternoon, and descended to his office. And lo! it did come to pass as he came nigh upon his office, he did find that his MP had defiled it by rifling through the filing, crashing his computer, and scattering bits of paper everywhere to the extent that his office did verily look like two rhinos had been mating in there.

The Member saw that there was wrath in the eye of his bag-carrier and was afraid and did leg it to the safety of the Chamber, leaving his researcher pondering why nobody considered the plight of MPs’ staffers when they were writing the rules.

Well, now they have.

1.  Thou willst not unfairly blame the help

We all know that nothing is ever an MP’s fault.

If they are caught making imaginative claims from the taxpayer-funded Additional Costs Allowance, they will apologise on behalf of the system and lead a pitchfork-wielding mob in the direction of the Speaker’s office who, according to them, was practically forcing MPs at gunpoint to buy widescreen plasma TVs. If they are sacked from a Ministerial or Shadow Ministerial position for being a bit rubbish, you can bet your life that they will soon be muttering in their cups to sympathetic journalists about how it was actually the manoeuvrings of [insert name of your party’s resident Machiavelli here] that saw them fired.

And if it is something that could conceivably be blamed on you, it often will be. Blaming the bag-carrier is often viewed by the MP as the perfect solution: you should have made them aware of the situation! Why wasn’t I informed sooner! Plaintive bleating that you’ve sent them a thousand emails on the issue and left four messages on their mobile phone will be waved aside with a curt hand or greeted with a blank look and a firm denial that any of these missives were received.

In addition, if a piece of casework has gone to ground in the bottom of the MP’s bag (all MPs’ bags have similar properties to those enjoyed by the Bermuda Triangle – many folders of “urgent” work have gone into these mystical devices never to be seen again) then you can bet your Portcullis Pension Plan on you copping the blame when a disgruntled constituent pitches up at a surgery demanding answers.

2.  Thou shalt not blog

A bag-carrier’s existence is fraught enough with danger without MPs adding to the stress by deciding they want to engage a bunch of angry internet weirds in political dialectic before wandering blithely away from whatever flame war they’ve started, thus requiring the staffer to mop up the damage as best they can.

3.  Thou shall not covet thy neighbour’s bag-carrier

Members of Parliament are ambitious and competitive beasts who are constantly locked in a not-so-friendly struggle with colleagues over who has the best website, office, or majority. Naturally, this extends to bag-carriers too.

This is highly irritating for all staff concerned, and usually takes the form of snide comments on the part of your boss as to your talents as compared to the worker from his mate’s office.  There are three forms such comparisons take:

  • “Jim Backbenchshire’s researcher wrote an annual report, a newspaper article, and cleared his policy letter backlog this morning, and still found time to serve him home-made ginger thins and coffee from a Cafetière”: This impossible individual has, according to your MP, Superman-esque properties and never seems to let irate journalists, a steady stream of casework, and an MP ricocheting MP a-buzz with a “brilliant idea” disturb their Fonz-like demeanour or throw a spanner into their workflow.
  • “Have you seen Joe Bloggs’ new researcher?”: And before you can say “diversity training” he or she will launch on a highly inappropriate run-down of the physical charms of the staffer which, apart from making your eyes water, will only serve to make you more aware that you’ve put on four stone since you started working for your boss and you appear to be wearing most of your lunch down your tie.
  • “Well, my previous member of staff managed alright!”: Unbeknownst to you, your MP will have spent much of his or her time moaning about the shortcomings of your predecessor to anyone who couldn’t run away fast enough before you arrived in the office to replace them. This will not stop the boss conveniently forgetting this fact and annoying you by constant and unflattering comparisons between you and the apparently soon-to-be-beatified ex-bag-carrier as you struggle to explain to your boss that you can’t send emails from a fax machine.

To any MPs reading this, please remember that a happy office is one where everyone feels appreciated so go on, show the love!

4.  Thou shalt leave any contraption involving a plug and a mains socket to thy bag-carrier

If 1 Parliament Street is slowly filling with smoke and you’re being given orders to evacuate, you can bet your life that a staffer has allowed his employer to make the tea, with the inevitable consequence that the entire top floor is now on fire. No, I don’t know how they do it either.

5.  Thou willst have at least a nodding acquaintance with thine diary for the day

All MPs have a form of diary dyslexia. This manifests itself in the following ways: turning up twenty minutes late to every engagement; stubbornly refusing to register room changes to the extent that many have been left sitting doggedly for hours in meeting rooms in the Barbican when everybody else is in SW1; disregarding the planned engagements for the day totally (also known as “freelancing”); and losing seven printed copies of the online order of business before they’ve managed to leave the office.

This list is by no means exhaustive.

Although irritating, bag-carriers who work on the Parliamentary Estate have often a reasonable – if small – chance of locating an errant boss if he’s freelancing. If you are a constituency staffer and your boss has gone AWOL you’ve got no chance beyond alerting the local police and pinning “MISSING MP – CAN YOU HELP?” on all available lampposts.

6.  Thou shall think long and hard about thy line before returning the call to any newspaper whose title involveth the word “Sunday”

Calls from newshounds with their noses firmly attached to the trail that might lead to political scandal are not to be taken lightly, and can produce an almost Catholic type guilt in the most upstanding Member of Parliament.

Whatever happens, try not to allow your MP to make the call in a panic and start screaming down the phone, “OH MY GOD! I DID NOTHING! NOTHING! YOU CAN QUOTE THAT! OH MY GOD!” as it tends to lead to raised eyebrows in the press lobby and rumours that you could probably do without at 5.30pm on a Friday when the Sports and Social is calling.

Which is inevitably when said newshounds phone.

7.  Thou shalt observe non-sitting Fridays and recess and keep them holy

There is no sight more frowned upon by bag-carriers than the sight of an MP in the Houses of Parliament when they should be in their constituency. Not only do they get in the way of actual work being done, but also because it’s a sad fact that few elected representatives can pull off “casual”. There’s something oddly disconcerting about seeing MPs in jeans (usually pulled right up to around the nipples) and the sort of sports jackets that would have the Fashion Police issuing warrants for arrest.

“Just popping in to see how you’re getting on,” is usually code for “I’m escaping from the missus for a couple of days ostensibly because you’re behind with your work. I have plans for this evening, but in the meantime I’m going to hang around your office all day, rummaging around and messing up your systems, and generally getting in the way.”

So come on, guys – don’t you all have constituencies to go to?

8.  Thou willst not be a tightwad when it comes to contributing to the tea kitty

Although it’s safer not to let MPs near anything electrical (see above), it is worth pointing out to them that in spite of what they might vaguely believe to the contrary, the coffee doesn’t appear out of mid-air. It actually, they are often surprised to learn, requires an injection of capital in the form of pennies for the raw materials, and labour in terms of the brew-making and washing up afterwards.

A couple of quid a month towards provisions is not beyond the means of even the most junior Member of Parliament.

9.  When in the Chamber, thou willst sit as close behind your party’s front bench as possible

There is a massive benefit in persuading your Member that he or she is so important that they should sit as close to the Minister or the Shadow Minister as possible in the Chamber: namely, that for a portion of the day at least you know where they are. The cameras in the Commons focus mainly on the front benches, allowing a good vantage of the seats behind and giving you the peace of mind that comes with knowing that, for now at least, they aren’t off causing trouble elsewhere.

10.  Honour thy bag-carrier, and do not run them ragged when thou art in Committee

“Hi, I’m stuck in a Statutory Instrument Committee on the other side of the Parliamentary Estate. Could you bring me a copy of today’s Order Paper and, you know, if you’re going past the Terrace, I wouldn’t mind a cup of tea and a bacon sandwich …”

Thus will begin a morning where little is achieved as you spend your time yo-yoing across the Palace bearing cups of coffee, doughnuts, press cuttings, and all the other paraphernalia designed to keep your MP diverted during the discussions surrounding the delegated legislation on Butterfly Imports from the Czech Republic (No.2) Order.

They will return to your office a few hours later, full of the finest breakfast Parliament has to offer and relaxed to find you a sweaty heap, slumped over your desk, and gasping for air. This is usually the point at which they enquire as to how many policy letters you’ve written that morning.

Here endeth the lesson according to Dean Trench.


Added by Dean Trench in 26 May 2009