Off the record: Researchers' stories

Written by 03 Jan 2014 on 3 January 2014 in Culture
MPs flashing schoolchildren and cats trespassing: What have our anonymous Westminster staffers been up to recently?

Visiting a school on one of his constituency days, my MP asked me to pop along to take some photos for his website. I agreed to meet him there as he said he would cycle. I arrived a little late and he was already being shown around some of the new classrooms. I noticed, however, he still had his rear red flashing bike light clipped into his belt. A group of kids had noticed and were in hysterics. I couldn’t interrupt the conversation, so I texted his BlackBerry. He checked his phone, read my text, surreptitiously took the light off and pocketed it. Just in time – the photographer from the local newspaper then turned up. We just avoided the headline, ‘MP flashes schoolchildren’.

Facing the music

At a recent advice surgery I was speaking to a constituent about his benefits problem. His claim had been suspended – incorrectly – by the DWP. He was, he said, having trouble managing, and asked for a foodbank voucher. To be honest, this is getting quite common. I asked to see some of his recent bank statements so I could assess what we could offer him. Admittedly, he didn’t have much, but I was perplexed to see some repeat purchases from iTunes. It turned out that although he found it difficult to get by, he was still finding money to buy the most recent offerings from Emeli Sandé and Michael Bublé.

Right royal pain

The flotation of the Royal Mail has angered many Labour MPs, but one confided to me in the lift the other day that he’d be glad when it finally happened because his office had been inundated with campaign postcards entitled, ‘Save Our Royal Mail’. He told me he’d had to sign 500 letters to his constituents the previous night and had subsequently lost interest in the topic.

Group fugs

All-party parliamentary groups range from the APPG on Eggs, Pigs and Poultry to the APPG for Headache Disorders. To be registered, each APPG requires 20 qualifying members from the main parties. Generally, this involves a poor researcher calling round, asking if members will consider being listed as a qualifying member. Having once done this, I can attest that it is soul-destroying. I’ve heard well-founded rumours that nowadays researchers just pick 20 ‘friendly’ or ‘boring’ MPs and Lords and add them without asking. As one researcher recently said, “The registrar never checks – there are 548 of the things [APPGs]. The MPs never need know, either.”

From the casework pile

A livid constituent came into the office recently, complaining about his neighbour’s cats. We only got rid of him by assuring that we’d write a letter to the offender on his behalf. The next day, the following letter was posted to the CEO of the local council: “I write on behalf of my constituent, Mr A. Mr A alleges that his neighbour at [address], Ms X, is deliberately encouraging her cats to “trespass... and defecate” on his property. Is the Council aware of this problem? Mr A asks that an officer write to her, asking that she discourage her cats from entering his garden. Is this possible?”

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