Well, it’s the closest that bag-carriers get to it anyway. [See footnote] For ten long, glorious weeks the corridors of power are deserted by our elected masters leaving staffers – in theory at least – the opportunity to catch up on some serious work. And, if we’re honest, catch up on some serious sleep as well.
Obviously if you’re based in the constituency office, the recess offers no such respite. In fact, you have to look forward to a couple of months of the MP hanging around, fiddling with your filing systems, wandering off with correspondence, and generally having the time to think up “brilliant ideas” which will usually culminate in a nervous breakdown. Your nervous breakdown to be precise.
Always conscious of our charges’ needs, we at W4MP have put together a small guide on how to best to manage your time through the summer months – whether you are constituency or Westminster based – in order that you can make the most of recess.
Oh, and Parliamentary bag-carriers who work for London MPs? Ignore all of the below. Sorry guys, it’s nightmares-ville for you.
Plan in advance
This is the single most important piece of advice for constituency office staff, and words that should be written in letters four foot high on the wall as recess approaches. What you do not want to happen on the day your MP arrives after the House adjourns is a realisation that there is nothing in the diary until October.
This is bad. Not just because recess is a time when Members can hunker down with their constituents and re-establish their credentials as a local MP for local people after being in the fleshpots of Parliament for months, but also (as explored by alt.guides passim) there is nothing more dangerous than an MP with five minutes on their hands.
Give them two months to their own devices and by the end of it they will have “reorganised” (i.e. totally buggered) your filing system, had you dressed up as a panda handing out balloons to scared adolescents in a poorly thought through attempt to highlight the importance of young people to the political process, and generally put into practice other “bright ideas” too numerous and horrific to go into here.
By the end of July the diary for August and September should just about give your boss time to nip to the toilet, but allow them little more time in the working day for anything more than that.
Skool’s out for the summer: managing demob-happy MPs
The January to July period of any Parliamentary session is, and feels like, a long time. Bag-carriers and Members alike look forward, as soon as the weather starts to improve, to the time when the annunciator will display the blessed words, “House Adjourned”, with the desperation of prisoners looking forward to their impending release.
They do say that most drowning victims succumb at the point at which their rescue is imminent, and for MPs this is no different. For the last week – maybe two – your boss may begin to display signs of being afflicted by a very dangerous disease: Demob Fever. Some of the most common symptoms are listed below:
- Extreme grumpiness (on the part of those who love this place and can’t bear to be away) or almost tearful hysteria (on the part of those who can’t wait to hot-foot it in the direction of the Gatwick Express as soon as the House rises).
- Subjecting every member of staff who can’t run away fast enough to a “Speak Your Brains” style stream of consciousness. This is an MP’s way of downloading every “bright idea” they’ve had in the last seven months which will conclude with the words “… and that should keep you busy for most of August.” Nod vaguely whilst backing away slowly.
- Remember all that correspondence that has been mysteriously disappearing from your desk since January? Expect it to mysteriously re-appear in your inbox, horrifically out of date, after your boss discovers a huge pile of stuff he or she wandered off with six months ago that has ended up under the sofa. Expect accusatory chunterings about how it was clearly you who hid it there.
As far as possible, attempt to treat the symptoms of Demob Fever by being on hand to ensure that the MP is well fed and hydrated and is getting plenty of sleep.
Obviously, this is easier said than done; as the old saying goes “you can lead a Parliamentarian to water, but he’d far rather be writing you a to-do list that’s roughly the size of War and Peace.”
The office sweepstake
This is a yearly summer favourite and fun for all the office: who is going to be the first MP to request, nay! demand a recall of Parliament? As with any school trip, there’s always one who ruins it for the rest. Take bets on who it’s going to be and how many days of recess will expire before Joe Bloggs MP gets exercised over the Foreign Office’s policy on butterfly farming in Outer Patagonia and demands that the House returns immediately to discuss the full ramifications of this horror. At least with the sweepstake the winner can treat his or her fellow staffers to bracing drink whilst you all wait for your disgruntled employers to arrive back at the corridors of power that they left so jubilantly a couple of weeks before.
Have a line on the MP’s holiday plans and make sure they do go away
Although a cursory conversation with a stressed-out and nearly suicidal constituency staffer would soon persuade them otherwise, there has been a tendency of recent years for our brethren in the media to report the summer recess as if it were an extended holiday for all concerned. Yep, we know that August and September aren’t months that Members of Parliament tend to spend lounging under palm trees being served peeled grapes by naked wenches – if only! – but it does make a good story.
For this reason some MPs are reticent to leave the sweatshop of the constituency office at all. There are no words less welcome to a beleaguered staffer’s ears than the phone call to the editor of the local newspaper that begins, “Well, obviously I am here to serve my constituents twenty-four seven so I won’t be leaving the office at all this summer except to go to the toilet and, if we can get a commode installed, not even then.”
Do not stand for it, fellow bag-carriers. It is your duty to both your sanity and the mental health of your political party that all MPs take at least a couple of weeks off. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, and most importantly, it means that you can actually get some work done without them mincing around the office and getting under your feet. Secondly, if they don’t have any time off they will be completely knackered come Christmas. Bear in mind that your Whips office will take a dim view of your MP spending the winter months totally exhausted, smacked up to the eyeballs on Portcullis House coffee, and loose-cannoning all over the political landscape.
The competition between MPs to out-hairshirt each other when it comes to grim holiday locations is founded in a desire to demonstrate to their constituents that they are absolutely committed to “Working Hard For YOU!” at all times instead of behaving like rational human beings. This is not your problem. If your boss has booked two weeks on a minimum facility campsite in Scunthorpe where they’ll be eating Spam straight out of a tin and praying for rain every day so that then they can be really miserable and thus a better elected representative than the next door MP who’s gone to France, just let them get on with it.
Wherever they decide to go, make sure you clear with your employer what the line is if the local press phone up making enquiries. Some are quite happy with the “am I bovvered?” approach to the disapproving clucking from the news media over their temerity to take a holiday, whilst others prefer to be more reticent about their plans. Make sure you are clear on what to say. If your boss is a member of that extremely rare Parliamentary breed – he or she can use a phone or a Blackberry without crashing the entire mobile network – then you can just refer the query on without anybody being any the wiser.
Take advantage of the facilities
If you are based in Westminster, recess is the time when you can take advantage of the facilities that are “Members-only” in term-time. When there’s no danger that an MP might be bothered by the presence of a member of the hoi-polloi, the House authorities are reasonably happy for us bag-carriers to eat our lunch on the Terrace, make bookings at the Adjournment restaurant in Portcullis, and frequent the Strangers’ Bar.
They don’t let us, however, lounge around in the Chamber and the policemen take immediate and swift action against bag-carriers who attempt to have a cheeky kip (or undertake something more risqué) in the Speaker’s Chair. Just say no, kids.
Don’t leave all your work to the last minute
The switch in pace between legging it around after your boss nine hours a day to the relative calm of the recess period can bring with it a bout of Parliamentary Piles amongst the bag-carrying brethren. The absence of the usual sense of panic has a tendency to induce a sense of false calm and lack of motivation in staffers on the Estate. Okay, so there is less on in summer months but there is still work to do. Although there is a temptation to put it off, make sure you are not spending the final three days in recess feverishly trying to catch up on two months worth of correspondence.
Well, that’s it folks – everything you need to make the most of recess. Now, given that it’s 5pm somewhere, I’d call that beer-o-clock, wouldn’t you?
See you in the Sports and Social.
Footnote: For those of you who wondered why the opening paragraph is headed ‘Spring Break’ and were puzzled by the first sentence, check out this page on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spring_break#Common_practices. Don’t say we here at W4MP don’t help with all aspects of your education. Ed
Need more helpful advice on surviving the recess?
Have a look at our ‘sensible’ guide: Staying sane over the summer
Added by Dean Trench on 30th July 2008