Felicity Parkes on Parliamentary flirting

Written by Felicity Parkes on 22 November 2012 in Opinion
Allowing an MP certain liberties can be career-enhancing, but where does a researcher draw the line?

This article is from the December 2012 issue of Total Politics

There’s a wise, old parliamentary staffer saying that goes: “I want to be a SpAd one day, and if killing Larry the cat gets me the role, then call me a cat killer!”

Okay, so maybe not that old or wise, but the sentiment is still true. One has to put up with a lot of nonsense to make it in politics, and sadly that often includes leering employers or party grandees.

Sometimes it’s a toss-up between the secretary of state who can’t drag his eyes away from my boobs or the backbencher who thinks he’s being subtle with the back-pat-slide-and-squeeze move. At least the SoS keeps his hands to himself even if he does walk too often into tables and door frames. 

It’s not just men, either; at party conference I was chatting with a young, male researcher friend of mine moments before his boss draped herself over him and whispered, “my sweet boy” in his ear. It was embarrassing, it was creepy, and it was normal. There are many parliamentary offices in which only petite blondes are hired or toned rugby enthusiasts, and these guys and gals know the best way to keep their jobs.

I don’t turn my nose up at men and women who use flirtation as a tool of the trade – if you’ve got the body confidence then go for it, but a fine balance must be maintained. Is there a safety net for staffers who have problems with their employers? Not unless they’re a union member, and who can afford that every month? Even if there was more support, I doubt many would come forward and complain. Reputation is everything, and an MP’s researcher will put up with just about anything to secure a solid career. 

Tags: Felicity Parkes, Issue 53

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