12 months at Westminster - the obstacle course
Revised: 7 January 2010
Welcome to 2010 at Westminster. Below is a new guide for you from W4MP. Those of you based in the constituency will be thinking: yeah, yeah, it's always about that pampered lot living it up in Portcullis House - away from the real world.
We challenged constituency-based staff to write their own version and you can see it here.
Thanks to our two writers for these guides. If you have any comments please let us have them, using the Feedback form at the bottom of this page. W4MP Ed.
So 2009 is over. You survived - congratulations! If you were in parliament for the whole year you’re probably feeling like a bit of a veteran now. However, you still clicked on this guide, proving Parliament’s biggest secret; that no one really knows what they’re doing, no matter how long they’ve been here…
Odds are, however, that you’ve not been here a whole year. Turnover of researchers is always very high, and until someone realises that £16,000 is not a competitive London wage, that’s likely to remain the case.
So here are a few key obstacles that are likely to be lying in wait in the next 12 months…
January – Surviving the most depressing month of the year
Let’s be honest, January is rubbish. It rains all the time, it’s freezing cold, you’re still fat and poor from Christmas, and everything’s just a bit miserable.
Watch out in particular for January 24th, allegedly the most depressing day of the year according to Cardiff University’s ‘January Blues Day Formula’: 1/8W+(D-d) 3/8xTQ MxNA. (In case you’re wondering what this actually means, you can find a slightly dubious explanation here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4187183.stm)
Anyway, before the misery sets in totally, use January to set some work-related New Years Resolutions, and try to make them resolutions to improve your sanity rather than productivity. Something along the lines of ‘leave work on time at least twice a week’, ‘never take work home at weekends’ or ‘accept that no one else really knows what they’re doing either, and stop feeling so bad about it…’ might be helpful.
And look on the bright side, the 24th Jan this year falls on a Sunday. So you can legitimately spend the entire day under you duvet with a jar of nutella and a spoon, waiting until it’s safe to come out on the 25th.
February – Mini recess
February has the potential to be even more unremarkable than January, but for Parliament, that’s a good thing. Not only is February a gloriously boring month, but it’s broken up by half term! Just like being back at school.
Capitalise on the dullness, wallow in the beautiful lack of drama, and see if you can make the office so boring that your MP actually goes back to the constituency for a week in recess. That way you can wear jeans and take long lunches. Simple pleasures.
March – Spring Conference
If you are lucky enough to work for a party that doesn’t ‘do’ Spring conference, then read on. There’s nothing for you here. Just be smug that your March will be significantly less stressful than ours.
However, Spring Conference doesn’t have to be a nightmare. In fact, it can be quite fun. It’s only three days long; what’s the worst that can happen?! (Queue scene from Dr Pepper advert, featuring a hapless MP with their pants down on the Daily Politics show…)
April – New financial year
The start of April means two things.
As a general rule, if you’re hoping to negotiate a pay rise for the new financial year, think very carefully about what April fools tricks you play on your boss… (the ‘tidal wave’ prank on this page http://aprilfoolzone.com would be particularly unwise…)
But seriously, having a pay review is a good idea. It will depend how long you’ve been here for, and whether you’ve had a pay review yet, but it’s always something worth bearing in mind. The times when you can sensibly suggest a pay review are the end of any initial period of probation (likely to be 6 months), the end of your first year, or the start of the new financial year. But generally not all three!
If you’re hoping to ask for a pay rise at this time of year, make it really clear to your boss that that’s what you’re doing so they don’t feel ambushed. It’d be a good idea to make a list of your responsibilities and the hours that you work, especially if have increased since starting your job. Have a (reasonable) figure in mind, and aim a little higher. That way if they negotiate you down you’re still likely to be doing ok, and if they say yes, then you’re in the money!
May – General Election (probably…)
The two words that strike fear in any researcher’s heart. General. Election.
Before you run screaming for the hills, now is another good moment to bear in mind the golden rule of Parliament: no one else knows what they’re doing either.
Firstly, as a member of parliamentary staff you’re not allowed to be paid to campaign for the election. You will need to talk to your MP about how this will work – in most cases staff take leave over the election period, but it’s worth finding out as soon as possible how this will work.
If you are going to your constituency to campaign:
June – The School visit
This is not confined to June, but for some reason all of the school visits do tend to choose this month to descend.
July – Winding up for summer
Summer recess is nearly here, but there are a million and one things to do before your MP disappears for a couple of months. Try to keep a few afternoons clear to get signatures on letters and run through all of those things that you’ve been meaning to talk to your boss about for a couple of weeks now.
Otherwise at 3pm on the last Thursday afternoon as your MP rushes for the 3.30pm train, you will find yourself following them through Westminster station panting something about booking meeting rooms and getting a pass for that new intern. And no, it won’t look like a scene from the West Wing.
August – Summer recess
Wahey! It’s summer recess. Brilliant. Make yourself a to-do list, and ensure that some of these things are on it:
September – Conference
This is a big obstacle. If you can survive conference, you can manage just about anything this job throws at you. Key things to remember:
October – Christmas Cards
This sounds ridiculous, but it really will take that long. Start work on the Christmas cards as soon as possible. You will find your MA in International Relations and work experience at the UN invaluable for this task.
And suddenly, it’s December 15th and you’re finally shoving handfuls of Christmas cards into the internal mail. Time flies when you’re having fun.
November – The Queens’ Speech
The Queens’ speech is generally not huge news, and you can probably work out before hand what’s likely to be announced. Be prepared to write some last minute press-releases, but otherwise you can generally sit back and enjoy the circus.
Prorogation is just a fancy word for a mini-recess. Some MPs will disappear back to their constituencies for a week, but either way the House won’t be sitting, so things get a bit easier.
On the day of the speech, it is tradition for researchers to stand outside in the cold and rain and watch the Queen arrive. Not because we want to, but just because we can. In addition to watching the procession (which is pretty impressive, whether you’re a fan of the Queen or not), it can be just as much fun to play ‘spot the sniper’. Look out for the shadowy figures on the roofs of parliament and the buildings down Whitehall and pretend you’re in Spooks.
December – Christmas
Tis the season to be jolly, tra la la la la la la la la!
Christmas is always very, very busy; every organisation under the sun seems to want your MP to speak at their Christmas reception, there’s the Christmas cards to finish off, and then all of the other work that you can’t really leave over the two week break.
But try not to take it all too seriously. Get to some Christmassy receptions for free mulled wine and mine pies, buy lots of Portcullis branded tat from the gift shop for elderly relatives, attend as many Christmas parties as possible, and ensure that by the time you get home for Christmas you’re so tired that watching you’ve been framed actually doesn’t sound too terrible any more.
And most importantly, give yourself a pat on the back. You survived a whole year in Parliament! You are now officially a veteran. If you do take away anything from these ramblings, make it this: no one else really knows what they’re doing either, and apparently, that’s ok.
HU Jan 2010
Now read the Constituency version:
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