Commons freshers shown the ropes

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By the end of the week they will have been inducted, tagged, administered, sworn in, lectured to and accommodated. They will be given a handbook, a video, a car park pass and endless cups of tea.

Some of the new boys and girls in the House of Commons say it feels just like the first day at school. Others, feeling more grown up, compare the experience to freshers' week at university. After two years "in the sixth form" as a Prospective Parliamentary Candidates and six weeks' heavy preparation for the final exams on election day, they have finally arrived.

Some were always confident that they would make it to Parliament, but many believed just five days ago that they would be returning to normal life by now. Instead they have been thrown into a euphoric round of introductions and practicalities.

There are 262 new members - more than at any time in living memory. Among them are 190 Labour members, 42 Conservative, 29 Liberal Democrat and one - Martin Bell - independent. Mr Bell, like the other opposition MPs, is being herded around by the opposition whips, Labour MPs by the government ones.

For the first time, the Sergeant at Arms' office has set up an exhibition for the new members and is providing back-up material to help them find their feet. Before they can settle down to work they must get security passes, offices, secretaries and researchers.

Yesterday, about 50 new Labour members from across the South and Midlands gathered in a conference room to be told the ropes. Among them was Helen Brinton, a teacher, who won Peterborough from the Tories.

"We know all there is to know about being candidates, but we don't know about being MPs," she said.

Post-election camaraderie has broken out across party lines among the new members, and Mrs Brinton has even found herself a "pair" in the accommodation queue - a Tory with whom she will agree nights off. With a Labour majority of 179, many on her side of the house will not be so lucky. Chris Pond, former director of the Low Pay Unit and new Labour member for Gravesham, says the induction process feels "like being back in short trousers," but is delightedly organising a Kent Labour MPs' group - not possible with the previous total of two but now plausible with eight.

Among his new Kent colleagues are Paul Clark, new Labour member for Gillingham, and Derek Wyatt, member for Sittingbourne. Mr Clark, a TUC training centre manager, and Mr Wyatt, director of the computer channel on Sky Television, might both reasonably have expected to go back to their old jobs this week. But both say they knew they could win.

Most of these new members are already relishing the job ahead, and while a few admit to feeling a little caught up in the confusion of these first days, others are ebullient.

Fiona Mactaggart, new MP for Slough and former chair of Liberty and the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, already has her Parliamentary interests mapped out.

"I have spent quite a lot of time in this building. I have actually, in a former job, got a House of Commons' select committee to change government policy. But even if I hadn't done it before I would never be intimidated," she said.

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