By now you should have your MP under control. Part 1 of this guide showed you how to stop them interfering in the office – and now they’re duly lighting up the House with impassioned speeches and generally keeping out of your way. Part 2 deterred them from venturing anywhere near youth culture and once again they’re more than content listening to Phil Collins and Meatloaf (though hopefully not within your earshot) whilst looking appropriately blank if anyone mentions Duffy.
But pay attention, young Jedi, your training is not yet complete…
7. NEVER let your MP have creative control over their biographical revelations.
Now take a deep breath and calm down – we’re not suggesting that your MP seeks a publishing deal for their diaries. While people may be enthralled by a candid as-it-happened account of Cabinet back-stabbing by a former Minister and renowned maverick, Faber and Faber are unlikely to offer a significant advance for 500 pages of ‘Friday 21st: cut ribbon to celebrate opening of new Sure Start in Tanterbury’.
What we’re talking about is the forms that are sent in, with an altogether unsettling regularity, from ePolitix, Who’s Who, BBC etc asking for each MP’s personal details such as favourite charities, political interests and hobbies for inclusion in guides to Parliament. These are invaluable sources of information but without the right checks and balances in place (that means you) they give your MP an unfettered carte blanche to do one of two things: a) demonstrate their ‘zaniness’, or b) set out their prospective elder statesmen credentials. There have been some messy incidents where the two have met but the author of this guide is not ready to talk about them.
Those guilty of the former are likely to list hobbies as ‘extreme sports’ (translation: fond memories of pony trekking in the Brecon Beacons circa 1974 and sledging with the grandchildren). There will also be the inevitable ‘music (mainly Oasis)’ which will really flummox your boss next time the local radio station asks them to do an impromptu ‘Wonderwall’ at the live on-air karaoke fundraiser for Children in Need.
It’s just as bad if your boss is a young pup desperate to show some of the traits that only a long and respected career in politics can bring, in the belief that their party leader has a stack of Parliamentary yearbooks on his bedside table and thumbs through them during sleepless hours in the hunt for a rising star. However, your boss’s own cursory flick through previous editions for inspiration is likely to bring a crushing realisation of how insignificant in the Parliamentary food chain they are, and the lack of a bestseller on Pitt the Younger will really start to pinch. This is when the clutching at straws, the desperation to show authority on something, anything will do…
While ‘Self calibration in lithography and other integrated circuit manufacturing’ may have made an unputdownable page-turner of a dissertation your boss may not have grasped that it is unlikely to feature in the summer’s top ten holiday reads.
Before you hand the forms over to your MP, you should fill in any details they’ll have trouble arguing with – i.e. date of birth and constituency and suggest that you complete the rest together, leaving you to take care of future ones. You should also have a good existing example to hand to demonstrate how the party’s adored leading light enjoyed a meteoric rise to Cabinet without ever mentioning Amy Winehouse or their A Level coursework.
8. NEVER let your MP give out your personal phone number.
Don’t be fooled by the standard ‘but there could have been an emergency and someone would have had to be contacted’: everyone of any significance in the constituency and party has your boss’s mobile number – local Mayor, Chief Superintendent, Chief Whip and every journalist within a fifty mile radius (wider still if you work for Lembit Öpik). If something urgent comes up out of office hours – your MP will be reached.
But once your mobile number is in the public domain you’ll spend your weekends taking calls from people who want to know why MI5 is spying on them through the television via Ant n’ Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, followed by 47 further calls asking ‘Which one’s Ant and which one’s Dec again?’
It’s just not good for your work/life balance.
9. NEVER let your MP take on interns without your consent.
Your boss is likely to pick the very moment when you lose an entire coach party of constituents somewhere between the toilets and the aye lobby to wander into the office looking for a particular letter and when they can’t find it (most likely because it’s been filed in the appropriate place) they will decide that your systems are less than robust and it’s high time they took charge.
This will almost certainly be the morning after they have met a local sixth-former brimming with the all the political fervour and natural passion that you vaguely recall once having, but can now only muster after a 12 hour drinking session in the Red Lion with a particularly opinionated researcher whose political colours are somewhat at odds to your own.
Now don’t get me wrong – interns are a fantastic and invaluable resource, but it really needs someone who actually knows what’s involved in running an MP’s office (that’s you again) to explain the work involved, and ask what they want from the experience before they start.
An unsuspecting intern will spend their first afternoon surreptitiously asking when they’re going to meet Gordon/David/Nick, and from then on you’ll spend every stressful moment – new outbreak of Foot and Mouth, your MP saying ‘Booyakasha’ in the Chamber – trying to fend off intricate questions about Programming Motions. You’ll then spend the next three months asking them to do tasks that mainly involve sitting in the corner and staying out of the way.
10. And finally…
NEVER let your MP turn up unexpectedly in Westminster.
It’s a Friday in the middle of summer recess. Gents – you’ve got five days of stubble and your feet are up on the desk; ladies – you’re applying the third coat of nail polish in advance of a long-anticipated date with your party’s hottest policy wonk, all safe in the knowledge that your boss is doing constituency visits in the Outer Hebrides. Only half an hour before you’ll have just found the perfect answer to the West Lothian question and finished off an exemplary briefing on the Lisbon Treaty, but the sight of you taking a short breather will induce a speech peppered with expressions such as ‘slacking’ and the dreaded ‘maybe you’d be better off in the constituency during recess’.
While you can talk your way out of it by revealing all the work you’ve been doing, you must remember that the ONLY way to stop your boss doing all the other things you’ve been warned about is based entirely on the fact that you know where they are at all times.
If they happen to wander in when you’re not there, the temptation of any one of the above NEVERS that you’ve spent the last year working to avoid will just prove far too much.
In some cases all of them…
This concludes your training in the art of keeping your MP under control and we wish you all the luck in the world. Don’t have nightmares!
This page was added to the site on 16 June 2008