How to be the best MP

Written by Sadie Smith on 18 June 2010 in Culture
Former bag-carrier Sadie Smith gives guidance on how to win a researcher's respect and avoid appearing in one of our off-the-record stories

Yes, we know exactly who you are. You are a new Member of Parliament, in possession of a place in the Commons to hang your sword, but no office as yet. From this, we're assuming that your hurry to pay for your coffee and cereal bar is no more pressing than ours in spite of the fact that your name now has the hallowed letters MP emblazoned on your brand new pass. So, in spite of the signs in the parliamentary eateries that say "Members have priority access," we'd appreciate it if you didn't shove right to the front of the queue, scattering us staffers in your wake, with the air of one who is late for a top-level briefi ng at No 10. Because it's not done.

There has been plenty written, spoken and blogged by a combination of current MPs, old stagers and the commentariat about what a new MP should take on board from older and more experienced hands. But no one has asked those with more understanding than anyone of the quirks of politics and politicians: the research assistants.

Carrying bags for politicians is an ancient and noble art, undertaken by naïve souls who enter the Commons as bright university graduates and leave a few stone heavier and more than a few ideals lighter. We are the troops who do the photocopying, type the press releases; we are at once the tea-makers, the correspondencedrafters, the unqualified social workers who attempt to help your constituents with their problems, your technical support when you drop your Blackberry down the loo, the lost property retrievers and the people who organise for your dry cleaning to be picked up. Very occasionally, we are researchers who retire to licensed premises late on a Friday to swap notes with our fellow assistants from all parties about what the bloody MP's gone and done this week.

If you want advice on how to be the best Member of Parliament, ask us. Here beginneth the lesson.

As a bright young PPC teetering on the edge of a brilliant parliamentary career, tweeting and blogging may seem like a good idea. Please be aware that those several thousand new followers will be the ladies and gentlemen of the Press Gallery, who are just itching for you to get drunk and post something fruity in the early hours after a prolonged session in the Strangers' Bar.

Additionally, as soon as you are elected, you will lose any former IT ability you previously possessed. Nobody knows how or why this happens but it does, so please don't undertake anything more adventurous than Microsoft Outlook, otherwise you'll just end up deleting the parliamentary intranet.

When you say to your researcher, "I've had a brilliant idea!" we hear, "You'll be here until dawn clearing up the fallout from this one," so please have them sparingly.

And don't complain to us about the new IPSA rulings on MPs' living costs. Sure, the scheme is cackhanded and unfair to you, but it's disastrous for bag-carriers. We were never in danger of getting hit by the new 50p top rate of income tax, and I don't remember MPs' staff getting their moats cleaned on expenses, yet IPSA has nonetheless inflicted an effective pay cut on people who were already on relatively low pay.

Observe non-sitting Fridays and keep them holy. This is the time of the week when we can get some serious work done unimpeded by an MP ricocheting all over the office demanding that we stop what we're doing every two minutes to Google their name, insisting that we write a press release on their recent parliamentary awesomeness, leaving their folder of top secret documents in Committee Room 6, and generally getting in the way of the correspondence, casework, the booking of Commons tours for schools and all the other myriad tasks that Members assume happen by magic. If you've got time on your hands on a Friday, go and bother your constituents. We have work to do.

Finally, repeat after me: "Thelaws of parliamentary privilege do not apply to the slanderous observations about the prime minister I feel the sudden urge to make live on air to Sky's Adam Boulton."

And never ever, under any circumstances, ask the question: "Don't you know who I am?" We know who you are, and far better than you do.

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