Part 1 of our guide tells you how to stop them before it all gets out of hand!
1. NEVER let your MP open the post.
While it is every bag-carriers’ dream to arrive in the office to find the impossible mountain of that day’s mail magically opened and sorted, let your boss anywhere near it and you’ll come in to find one almighty pile of woe.
Though they may be operating with the best of intentions, it will not be opened, date-stamped and subdivided into four neat piles marked ‘Urgent’, ‘Correspondence requiring a response’, ‘Invitations’, and ‘Reading material’. Neither will it be marked with helpful post-its giving additional information, with the envelopes and totally irrelevant post put in the recycling bin (the stuff like Concrete Northeast Monthly despite your boss representing a rural seat in Somerset where all the new builds are still made with wattle and daub).
Instead you will find one gargantuan mound of semi-opened mail – some with the envelopes opened but the contents missing and some opened with the contents covered in your bosses’ unintelligible scrawl but inexplicably put back in the envelope. On top of this all the invitations will be missing meaning that three months later you’ll still be getting anxious phone calls from local schools wanting to know why their Member of Parliament isn’t coming to prize day. In the middle of the mayhem there will be a letter from a disgruntled constituent blaming you personally for not replying to their email/phone call/telepathic thoughts despite the fact that you’d already spoken to them six times that day. By the time you explain the facts to your boss the damage will already have been done and you’ll be onto the Union Branch faster than you can say ‘gardening leave’.
Ordinarily you’ll get to the post before your boss but in the event that you’re away for the day, get it diverted to the constituency office. If you work in the constituency and there’s the slightest chance the boss will ‘pop in’ when you’re not there get it un-diverted for the day – basically where another member of staff can deal with it and as far away from your MP as possible.
2. NEVER let your MP do any of the filing.
You will have developed a system so that you can always find that letter or policy document in a crisis but let your boss anywhere near the filing cabinet and you may as well just kiss goodbye to words like ‘organised’. And ‘sanity’.
They will decide that one drawer stores everything beginning with ‘f’ and in will go an insurmountable pile of documents on everything from fire safety to fluoridation, football to fruit. It will take you three days straight and an excessive amount of gin to sort it out, not to mention a few words of your own beginning with ‘f’.
And don’t even get me started on those offices in the Palace with the built-in cupboards. A bag-carrier opened one of these after a week’s leave during the ’97 Parliament and the ensuing avalanche resulted in the Serjeant-at-Arms taking nigh on three days to pull her clear.
Have a tray for filing on your desk that your boss can put things into to be filed away or you will never find ANYTHING EVER AGAIN.
3. NEVER let your MP near the diary.
Each Friday you should make sure they have copies of each day’s appointments for the next week but actually let them into the system and you’re just asking for trouble. Your boss will, of course, want to make appointments but make sure they give you the details to fix it up otherwise next time you go to set up a meeting you’ll find a mystery entry for Wednesday afternoon simply marked ‘John’.
By the time Wednesday comes your boss will have forgotten what time they agreed to meet, where to meet, what the meeting was about and, more than likely, who ‘John’ is. They will then ring you denying all knowledge, demanding to know why this appointment hasn’t been entered in the diary properly and, as they have no idea who ‘John’ is, you will spend all day trying to figure it out.
‘John’ could be a former PM keen to hear your boss’s expert views on Northern Ireland; a senior Whip wanting to know why the regional Whip is failing to keep the rest of the troops in line (and there could be a promotion in it for your MP come the next reshuffle); he could be the Leader of the City Council who stood against your boss at selection but is now prepared to get on board if they can just agree on a few issues; or it could be John Simpson of 6 Skyhawk Way who wants to exhibit his prize-winning collection of Q-tips in Westminster Hall.
Your bosses’ concept of ‘afternoon’ will stretch from 12noon-9pm so be prepared to sit tight with a mixture of high anticipation / bowel-clenching dread until you are called to go and greet the mystery guest…
Added: 26 November 2007