Secretarial: I Work For - Who needs Jeffrey Archer?

FLICK REA IS DIARY SECRETARY TO SUSAN KRAMER, LIB-DEM MAYORAL CANDIDATE AND TRANSPORT AND FINANCE CONSULTANT
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The Independent Culture
The useful thing about my having originally trained for the theatre is that I am eminently flexible in terms of working time. I can turn my hand to just about anything, whether it's mending a photocopier or going out to a smart fund-raising dinner, and I am very much a hands-on person rather than a sitter around.

I've been a grass-roots Liberal since 1974, a councillor for my area for 13 years, and in 1997 I became the part-time administrator for the London Liberal Democrats. I knew Susan through my work, as she was chair of policy for the London Lib Dems as well as one of our top Euro candidates for London. However, it wasn't until I saw her at a mayoral hustings in July that I made up my mind to vote for her as our mayoral candidate.

It was perfectly obvious to me that she was the right person. Not only is she hugely talented in campaigning, fund-raising and working with the party, but her instincts are shrewd, her business sense sound and her brain formidable. She also has impressive credentials in transport matters - a crucial factor as it is one of the key areas for which we know the future mayor will have responsibility.

I've been involved in transport myself on both a personal and political level for about 20 years. I was secretary to the Pedestrians Association, where I initiated our "Walk to School" project. I don't have a car, partly out of ineptitude when it comes to driving, but mostly because the public transport in my area is pretty good.

I think I dropped like manna from heaven into Susan's life at just the right moment. Seeing her overwhelmed by the huge influx of post after she was selected as our candidate, I offered my services. I could tell she needed looking after. Initially, I offered to help with her admin, and then suggested I could be her "bag minder" at conference, someone to set up meetings and make sure she had everything she needed, including space to breathe. She heaved a sigh of relief and chucked her diary at me, which is how I became her diary secretary.

I think Susan recognises that one of the advantages of working with someone who is a little more experienced than a 17-year-old is that they have a wide circle of acquaintances in many fields. Nonetheless she was amazed to discover that I had connections to all of the mayoral candidates bar one. I was at drama school with Glenda Jackson (now my MP) and sat on the Hampstead Theatre Board with Trevor Phillips. Frank Dobson and Ken Livingstone have both been Camden councillors, as have I, and I once stood opposite Ken's ex-wife in a local by-election. I also knew Steven Norris when he was Minister for London's Transport. I've yet to meet Jeffrey Archer and I'm happy to keep it that way.

Susan will wear her feet out walking London's high streets in order to make contact with the people she hopes to represent. She also receives long letters from people who want to unburden themselves of stories of woe concerning life in London, but she also gets plenty of letters of support. The other day, a man sent Susan a photo of Dick Whittington's cottage because he'd read that she had a cat named after the legendary mayor.

If you are a woman in high office, with the notable exception of Mrs Thatcher, you need support from other women. Even tough ladies crack sometimes, and I feel I provide Susan with a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to cry on, if required. She works so hard she sometimes gets tired but I can usually cheer her up by making her laugh - silly things like showing her the e-mail I received recently called "How to give your cat a pill".

Although I don't know what drives Susan, I think she has the ambition and skills to make a difference to society and she's ready to work with others on finding solutions. Maybe her experience of having worked in America, where there seem fewer glass ceilings, has given her an edge. I do think that women have a different perspective on life which can be very valuable to London - still, in many ways, a man's city. Women's struggles to get to the top of the greasy pole make them uniquely placed as survivors with good coping skills. In fact, London needs the calming influence of a woman and Susan is extremely serene and thrives on problems.

The worst thing that anyone has said about her is that she's unknown - though it's hardly her fault. She's not some small-time local politician like me. She has a wider perspective and she's a very practical person rather than a mad theorist. She's also got a huge amount to give. I hope to carry on my involvement with the mayoral race right up to the end, for luckily this new job dovetails together with my old one whilst also allowing me to continue working as a councillor. Were Susan to become mayor she would be able to call upon a large staff, whereas I would retreat back to my burrow and devote myself exclusively to my London region. But in the meantime, it's a pleasure to work for her and for something I so strongly believe in.

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