29 February 2012
This guide has now been replaced by an updated version:
DIARY MANAGEMENT – May your MP never miss an appointment again.
Revised and updated: 10 December 2008
If your MP manages their own diary, wrest it from their hands. No MPs should be running their own diary as they should be getting on and doing the job of being an MP. Yet some MPs still try to organise their own time for fear of the consequences if the diary is mismanaged. The solution – don’t mismanage the diary.
Thankfully, the vast majority of MPs have now entered the 21st Century and can be fully programmed to use a computerised diary with the minimum of effort – after all, it does make life much easier. However, I do know of MPs who run a diary on Excel which only they can access, from one PC, and have their Researcher print a copy of their daily duties each morning. If your MP is, frankly, a Luddite, try and patiently explain the benefits of updating the diary technology – they’ll thank you for it in the long run.
The most convenient system is to use Microsoft Outlook’s ‘Calendar’ function, which does everything short of dropping off your MP’s dry cleaning itself. Set it up so that every member of your MP’s staff has access. This will save burdensome phone calls between yourself and the constituency office to try and ascertain where he or she is.
The Basis of the Diary
The diary should exist in two forms:
- A small diary on your MP’s person – preferably on a PDA/Blackberry so they can consult it whenever they need to, wherever they are. This saves them ringing you on the hour, every hour, asking where they should be. This can be synchronised with the PC whenever they’re in the office, ensuring that both diaries match.
- A desktop version, accessible by each staff member on their own PC.
MPs receive a constant stream of invitations. When you present them to your Member, you want one of three responses:
- No, or
- Yes with a date and time (if it is an open-dated request)
Some MPs also like to give a provisional ‘yes’ to events, asking you to reply that they are likely to attend ‘subject to parliamentary business’ or ‘parliamentary business permitting’ or somesuch. This usually means, in truth, ‘it depends if I can be bothered’ but allows you to respond to invitations in a more positive manner, especially with organisations you don’t wish to offend.
Never give your Member the only copy of an invitation – always take a photocopy. File invitations by date, as they will often contain information the Member will want to take to the event. Also file rejections because if another event is cancelled, your Member may want to go to an event that he or she has previously rejected.
Always contact the organiser of each event promptly to inform them of your Member’s attendance, dietary requirements etc. Always make sure you know what exactly is expected of your Member at each event. You will not be thanked if your MP has to give a speech with no prior warning, or should have been wearing a tuxedo. As a precaution against an accusation of not having responded, make a note – on the invitation – of the date you responded to the invitation and how (tel, email, fax, etc).
As soon as you’ve accepted an invitation, enter it in the diary! Often Researchers prefer to let accepted invites stack up; however this is heightens the risk of a double booking. While it might not seem important to enter everything at the time, diary mishaps can at best be embarrassing and at worst, can land you/your MP in a whole heap of trouble.
Declining an open-ended invitation
It is often very difficult to decline an invitation that has no date – “Please can you meet with us at your convenience”. You can always cite a very busy schedule in the coming months but under those circumstances, they are likely to repeat the request periodically. Wherever possible, try to be frank about the reasons for declining and encourage the organiser to make a representation in writing instead. Useful lines I have used are…
“My MP would like to have met you but he is forced to prioritise issues that affect his constituency more directly”
“It’s not going to be possible to have a meeting because last time he met you, your press release to the local papers completely misrepresented his views. Under these circumstances, it might be better to write to him about your concerns”.
Sometimes you just have to tell people something they don’t want to hear.
Making Diary Entries
Many Researchers will agree that the fail-safe approach is to enter everything in the diary – from Select Committee meetings to haircuts. This ensures double booking is less likely, especially if you share control of the diary with staff in the constituency. Similarly, if you share control of the diary, you may find it useful to initial each entry, so your MP knows who has arranged each appointment. Each entry you make in the diary will allow you to add further detail in addition to title of event, location and time. Make use of this facility – for example, if your MP is due to speak at a conference, include directions, or even copy and paste a map. If there is a dress code, make a note of it.
Make sure you include each day’s votes in the diary (and how they have been whipped) so you don’t agree to anything that will clash and get your MP in trouble. When your party’s weekly Whip arrives, enter this information in the diary ASAP.
If your MP wishes to attend an event that clashes with important votes, let the organisers know that he or she may need to dash off.
For dinner events, sample menus will often be sent through. Try and get your MP to quickly make their own choices and you can relay these back to the organisers. Choosing for them is a risky business and may result in your MP clandestinely transferring sprouts under the table.
Don’t use abbreviations and acronyms as they may not make sense to you after three months – or you might be on holiday and your cover will not know what they mean.
Outlook allows you to colour-code diary entries – you may wish to use different colours for meetings, travelling, personal business and so on.
Be careful attending events ‘on behalf of’ your MP. While this approach can get you into some fantastically glitzy receptions full of VIPs, it’s always best to check with the organisers first that this is allowed. If this fails, pretending to actually be your MP can either be a raging success or a very sticky situation if you get caught out!
Original AH March 2004
Revised and updated version CD December 2008