The secret diary of an MP: Our team seems quite upbeat - haven’t they seen the polls?

Elections are a time when, more than ever, politicians tell voters what they want to hear. But what are they really thinking? Starting today ‘The Independent’ launches a weekly column written anonymously by a serving MP revealing the innermost secrets  of the campaign to get re-elected

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Indy Politics

So much to do. So little time. I know it’s a clichéd image: the removal vans outside Downing Street being loaded with Ted Heath’s piano, Tony Blair’s guitar and Gordon Brown’s… temper. And to a lesser extent it has been like that for me this week.

At one minute past midnight on Monday morning, Parliament will be dissolved by order of the Queen, and I and 649 other Members of Parliament cease to be. We become mere candidates. And this has consequences. We are locked out of our Commons offices, doors will no longer unlock when we swipe our passes, our parliamentary emails are disconnected, and we return to our constituencies. A few might need maps to find them.

But despite no longer being an MP, the work continues. Constituents will have problems and they phone, post letters, and email throughout the election period.

So that means setting up new “naff” email accounts rather than the more prestigious @parliament.uk address. It also means organising new letter-heads and envelopes, and buying stamps because we are no longer allowed to use parliamentary stationery – the principle being we should have no advantage over any other candidate for our constituency. You know: the one we have sweated over and poured our hearts into for the past five years.

 

I’ve been through this process before, but it never gets less daunting. I may have been a good MP, but if the national swing is against me, the tide will sweep me away.

I need to pack everything from the office that I may need. Constituency surgery files, case notes, and even my expense claim records. If I forget to pack anything, tough – I can’t get it until 8 May if I’m re-elected or, if I lose, I’ll just have a few awkward days to empty my old office. Anything unclaimed will then be shredded.

The Palace of Westminster has been filled with zombies this week. Some colleagues and friends who are standing down or retiring, and some who just don’t think they’ll be re-elected, have been doing their valedictory tours of the tea rooms and bars. They’ve had their final meal as a “Member” in the Dining Room. The Liberal Democrats are mostly looking shell shocked, while Scottish Labour MPs have a haunted look in their sunken eyes. The Conservatives seemed strangely upbeat. Haven’t they read the opinion polls?

The Whips’ Office has requested my contact details by email with a friendly – or menacing – message of “Your Whip is always there to help.” HQ are sending out enough briefings to keep even the most insomniac candidate with ample reading through the night.

But now I’m home. I’m looking forward to spending more time in my patch. Party apparatchiks stuck in Westminster fall into the trap of believing that the millions going out to vote in six weeks’ time are currently as engaged as they are. The reality is very different. When I’m out in my constituency, the people who talk to me all have views on issues; but they don’t follow the daily polls or the slogans. Polling day for the vast majority is something they might begin to consider a week or so before 7 May.

As for me, I will not only be fighting to save my seat and looking after my erstwhile constituents, I will be writing these weekly letters to you, dear reader. I will be open, frank and honest, so you will be able to see the election through my eyes: that of the Secret MP (and now candidate).

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