5 days in the life of Conrad Russell

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The Independent Online
Monday: "When does he practise tossing the bowler hat?" asked Bond. "I have not inquired," said Goldfinger. Most members of the public are as incurious about parliamentary working habits as Goldfinger was about Oddjob's training schedules. Members of the Lords are amateurs: they cannot give up the day job unless they have earned a pension. Since my week is divided between being a peer and being a professor, Sunday is the only clear day at the desk and "Monday" therefore begins at midnight on Sunday: marking essays, writing an article for Community Care on the privatisation of social services, and reading political briefing papers. The Citizens' Advice Bureau Social Policy Bulletin as usual makes my Liberal blood boil. This month's star example is a man with no money, unable to eat, entitled to backdated Jobseekers' Allowance. He could have his claim immediately if he gave up the backdating, but if he claimed the backdating he would have to go through a different office, and do without for several weeks. He gave it up: arbitrary power in action.

Morning teaching in college. Then Question Time for Lord Dubs's question on detention of asylum-seekers. Parliamentary debate depends on awaking one's opponent's capacity for self-doubt. The Home Office has none, so how does one get a handle on it? Problem not solved.

TUESDAY: Morning in college teaching and lecturing. Lunch with a pupil discussing careers, an hour fiddling with papers, and then to the House for gun control. We were discussing amendments to a Government Bill. Unusually, we had a free vote. Extraordinarily, we defeated the Government twice in a day. Even more extraordinarily, the Government were defeated despite the support of the Opposition front bench. Until the vote on police bugging, it was conventional wisdom that a government backed by the Opposition front bench could not lose: it had not happened in 30 years. Now it has happened four times in two weeks. Something earth-shaking is going on. Michael Howard has divided the Tories down the same faultline as Europe: he has split the legalist left from the populist right. On gun control, he has also torn the Tory party from its land-holding roots. The Labour front bench, incredibly, has sided with the populist right of the Tory party against its legalist left and split its own party in the process. The Liberal Democrats, as the only disciplined force remaining are left to speak for the majority. After these excitements, attend the Select Committee on the Public Services. Home to dinner and an evening marking essays. Find I've missed another Government defeat, but I can't be everywhere.

WEDNESDAY: Teaching in the morning, speaking in Roy Jenkins's debate on referring party funding to the Nolan Committee in the afternoon. Afternoon tutorial moved into the lunch hour. I listen to the essay in my room, discuss it in a taxi and over lunch in Strangers, and find my pupil a seat in the gallery because he wants to hear the debate. Fit into this timetable an undergraduate crisis. The pupil had not been doing enough work. No wonder, since it turned out he was doing a paid job 20 hours a week. His grant is less than his hall fees. He cannot come into college next week because he cannot afford to renew his travel card. The debate, when I get there, is sheer relaxation, with Roy Jenkins at his very best. The astonishing discovery is that the Tories really don't understand why their system of party funding is a cause for such widespread public concern. Dinner with my wife at the House after the debate. Time to relax and unwind, and be a human being for a few hours.

THURSDAY: No teaching today. With my part-time secretary dispose of a mountain of letters, mostly either on gun control or on the long-running sore of the CSA. Home to read a pile of Statutory Instruments and decide whether I need to make a fuss about any of them, and to mark more essays.

FRIDAY: House not sitting today. Full day's teaching in college, on topics ranging from the political thought of Dante to the financing of war under William III. A fairly full week, but without the back-breaking weight of writing a major academic book or leading on a major Bill. Both of those likely to come after the election, which cannot be far off now. Leave in time to shop for our 35th anniversary. Thirty-five years is not a long time: it is just long enough to get started.

Earl Russell is a hereditary peer.