A Guide for March
It is a truth universally acknowledged that March is the armpit of the year if you are a bag-carrier.
March is a period defined by omnipresent MPs as the House is often sitting on a Friday, a lack of the readies as it’s both the end of the financial year and a long month – paycheque wise, and also the month where constituents are programmed to write more fulsomely and frequently than usual. Fact.
To get you through it, and to demonstrate you’re not alone, W4MP’s very own Dean Trench has put together a list of the most annoying things your MP will get up to in the first month of the spring madness.
Forewarned is forearmed.
1. Volunteer to attend sitting Fridays
March is characterised by the House sitting nearly every Friday to debate Private Members’ Bills. Well, it feels that way anyway. If you’re really unlucky, your MP will actually come up trumps in the Private Members’ Ballot which is a whole other level of pain, but more than likely they will just be under immense pressure from various members of their whips’ office to show up and either assist to talk out or lend support to various pieces of legislative periphery.
Always keen to impress upon your party’s high command their willingness to undertake doormat duty whenever it’s required, your MP will enthusiastically sign up for every day the House is in session in the hope that they’ll be awarded a lollipop (or a PPS job, see below).
Unfortunately, this means that they will spend most of every Friday in March hanging around your office. As any bag-carrier will be aware, Friday is a day for coming in late, enjoying a fatty fry-up, sloping off for a cheeky pint at 5pm and still getting ten times as much done as you would under usual circumstances because you don’t have an MP pecking at your head all day demanding coffee, locking themselves out, forgetting their meeting commitments, and complaining loudly and tiresomely that they haven’t been in the papers for two whole minutes.
2. Undertake an audit of your office
The words “spring clean” to a Member of Parliament mean a sudden realisation that your office looks like it’s had two rhinos mating in it (although this will not be matched by an awareness that this is largely due to them dumping a huge pile of crapola on your desk every time they walk past it) and it’s high time that something was done about it.
In the course of rifling through your various trays, filing systems, and piles they will inevitably come across a piece of work in your inbox of the type that is known as “a floater” in bag-carrying circles. A floater is an item of ferocious complexity that no matter how hard and long you spend trying to resolve, it won’t disappear but rather stays loitering around the pan, winking evilly at you. You are always dimly aware of it’s odour, even if it’s buried safely at the bottom of a pile of correspondence. In fact, that pile that your Member’s rifling through right now and … ruh roh!
Upon uncovering the floater, the MP will decide that systems need to be improved so that this kind of abomination never happens again. Expect to spend most of the month pointlessly shuffling around papers in your filing cabinet whilst your MP cheerfully remarks from behind the paper that it’s much better to be organised as he or she adds a veritable phalanx of floaters build to your in your in-tray.
3. Turning your Wildean prose into sub-Jimmy Carr in the delivery process
You’ve laboured on that speech until late into the night only to discover the next day, via a sheepish note left on your desk, that your boss has decided to wing it instead. Interesting how those hi-LAR-ious Russell Brand style gags look less funny in the cold, sober light of day, in the unforgiving black-and-white of Hansard (not to mention the diary columns) than they did when inspiration struck at 9.30pm the previous evening after a good dinner.
4. Become a know-it-all on technological issues
You’d think that there is nothing more irritating than a life-long vegetarian telling you that your technique for frying steak is just all wrong. Well, there is: an MP, who has a vague idea that the “internet” is a spider breeding farm in Penge, informing you with the certainty of a Jehovah’s Witness predicting Judgement Day that there’s a far easier way of working that computer thingy.
Whatever you do, don’t lose your rag and scream, “Well YOU do it then!” unless you want to be indirectly responsible for the entire Parliamentary network going down for a day, or your MP cheerfully “clearing out some rubbish” by erasing your hard drive and everything on it.
5. Decide it’s high time you produced an annual report
Aside from “sitting Friday” there is no phrase that will strike fear into the heart of a bag-carrier like the words “annual report.” The onset of the fine weather (theoretically speaking) means that local volunteers have less of an excuse in terms of delivering it to householders and will duly grumpily assemble at local party offices to collect their several hundred glossy leaflets, all bearing the image of your boss’ mug beaming out at them.
But first you have to write it.
Certain editorial differences are inevitable. For example, your MP might think that photoshopping the head of his local opposition onto a grainy picture he downloaded from a swingers’ website and accompanying this with a suitably lurid headline regarding his/her sexual proclivities is entirely acceptable, whilst you might contend mildly that it might be a little difficult getting that one past the fees office.
Then there’s the constant barracking you’ll be on the end of as you try to format the bugger: “to the left, no other left, it’s too small … NOW it’s too big, can you make it blue, no red, no mauve – I said MAUVE not purple!”
Make sure you have an emergency bottle of Bombay Sapphire on standby.
6. Become chair of an All Party Group or two. Or nine
Your boss might think that becoming chair/secretary/treasurer to the All Party Group on Methane Emissions in Barrow-in-Furness will provide an excellent opportunity to up his local profile, but you’ll know that it will mean an endless rounds of inquorate, AGMs, mailouts that are never read, and belligerence from the Commissioner for Standards office when you fail to get your registration forms in on time.
Also, your boss might think that accepting the chairmanship on the All Party Group on Girls Aloud will make him look down wid da kidz, but its more immediate result will be to precipitate an outbreak of hilarity in your local press that you can only pray dies down come election time.
7. Take an interest in your love life
Regardless of their gender there is one thing that all MPs, irrespective of political affiliation, have in common: they are all old women. If your Member sights you sharing a bit of banter with the girl down your corridor as you queue for coffee of a morning, you can bet that they will have mentally decided on the hat and the bridesmaids’ dresses by the time you arrive back in the office with your skinny latte and bacon buttie.
Deaf to your plaintive bleating that you have a girlfriend/are gay, they will spend the next couple of weeks poking you painfully in the ribs every time she walks past whilst hissing in extremely audible whispers that she’s “pretty hot”, giving you fatherly advice on how to woo the ladies, and recalling encounters passim in which they have successfully got their leg over that will leave you with mental images that no amount of bleach will ever remove from your mind’s eye.
Even worse occurs if he’s mates with your supposed inamorata’s boss. Then you can expect them to meet up at the vote to swap stories about how your courtship is progressing, share their theories with other MPs in the tea room, and before you know it they are drunkenly issuing a “CALLING ALL SHIPPING” notice on the Annunciator after a particularly beery evening in the Strangers’ Bar.
This will prove particularly irritating if she has an extremely large boyfriend.
8. Become a PPS or equivalent
There is nothing wrong with your boss ascending the greasy poll. No indeed, promotion is good.
Except it always arrives bearing a bigger workload for you and less manoeuvre room to achieve it. For example, PPS’ aren’t meant to sign Early Day Motions which is a pain because a significant portion of the mailbag comprises constituents requesting their elected representatives to do just that. So now you have to write long and incomprehensible explanations to local residents explaining how just because your boss hasn’t signed the NSPCC’s latest motion on “BEING NASTY TO KIDS: IT’S VERY BAD, OKAY?” doesn’t mean that he or she occasionally indulges in a little birching of young ruffians. These missives are often met with a fish-like stare and a knowing oh-yes-they’re-all-the-same style knowing look upon receipt.
Still, the greasy pole waits for no man or woman, eh?
9. Acquire an intern
There is an entire industry that revolves around planting rich American nineteen year olds – for a whopping fee that neither you nor your boss sees – in Parliamentary offices. You’ll begin refusing the approaches of such internship companies on the basis that (a) you don’t need an intern; (b) you don’t want an intern; (c) you find the whole internship system exploitative; and (d) you’d met previous participants in this scheme who spoke of sub-standard teaching and rat infested accommodation they were subject to. But the woman in charge of this overseas workhouse for the over privileged of Orange County will not be outdone, oh no.
She’ll phone the boss direct and make, what one can only assume, promises to the effect that she’d be sending the real-life equivalent of the dude with the beard from the West Wing over, just in time for the Easter recess file-a-thon.
Five weeks later you’ll find some improbably named teenager sat in your office chair checking out something called “Facebook” (the Yanks are always ahead of the internet trends, in my experience), looking somewhat on the hungover side (many of them can’t legally drink in the US and boozing ‘til 6am has the distinct charm of novelty over here in Blighty) and manifesting the opposite of “excited anticipation of learning more about the British constitution”.
And your boss will deny having anything to do with it.
10. Accidentally precipitate a leadership crisis
They’re outraged! They are full of righteous indignation! They’ve heard the plans to [insert policy suggestion here] and they are not standing for it!
Like Judge John Deed (the bloke in the BBC drama who, when not shagging leggy defence barristers, was set on administering the law HIS way) they are not going to take this lying down. They’ll defy their party leadership if they have to. They will fight them on the beaches. They will fight them on the landing grounds. They will fight in the fields and in the streets, and in the hills. They will never surrender.
Armed with such noble sentiments, primed with a briefing, and with your desperate pleas for them not to stray too far off your party’s message ringing dimly in their ears, they will stride off into battle (or to be interviewed by Jon Craig. Whatever).
There will be a moment of blessed silence as your boss delivers their passionate declamation, and then it will start: the slightly harassed phone calls from party operatives enquiring as to whether your MP really meant to vote against your party’s flagship policy? The one that was announced in their manifesto? Remember?
The calls from the motley array of journalists, online journalists, and blokes with blogs: is this to be seen as a direct attack on Gordon/David/Nick?
There’s nothing else for it but to grit your teeth, phone through an advance order to the Sports and Social, and hope that April won’t be too long coming.
March really is one hell of a month.
Added by Dean Trench 18 March 2009