My right honourable friend has a deeply personal problem

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The Independent Online
MANY MPs hold regular surgeries to which their constituents can bring their problems, but what happens when MPs need someone to turn to for help with their problems? That is the question which first occurred to Jack Swinburn, a voter with no other interest in politics than a strong desire to have a knighthood.

He started small. He merely set up a tiny kiosk in the Palace of Westminster with a sign saying: 'Calling all MPS] Like to talk things over in private? Pop in for a chat]' He thought he might get one or two curious callers. He was staggered to find that more than 100 MPs called on him in the first week.

'I was staggered,' says Jack. 'I had reckoned some of them might have problems, but to find so many of them had dark shadows hanging over them was quite frightening.'

Some of the problems fell into predictable patterns. There were MPs who had tremendous debts after getting involved in Lloyd's. There were MPs who were being blackmailed over sexual indiscretions - usually by other MPs. There were MPs who were homosexual and MPs who did not know if they were homosexual or not. There were MPs desperate for promotion, and MPs who had got promotion and did not know how to handle it.

'Above all,' says Jack, 'there were MPs who were just desperate to talk to someone, anyone. I hadn't realised just how cut off many MPs are. They can't talk to their colleagues, who are all rivals, they can't talk to their party superiors, and half the time they can't even talk to their wives or husbands. I seriously believe the reason so many MPs have affairs and liaisons is not sexual or romantic but simply to have someone who will listen to them. As I always tell them, adultery is a complicated way of getting a sympathetic ear.'

Many MPs never adjust properly to life at Westminster, he says, especially if they have not been to boarding school. But those who do adapt are the ones he is really worried about. 'Look at it this way. Westminster is an abnormal environment. It is almost entirely male. It takes place far from the MP's home and friends. It takes place late at night under ridiculous conditions. Actually, it is more like being in an open prison than a boarding school. So that is why I say: show me someone who takes to Westminster like a duck to water, and I will show you someone with problems.'

One problem Jack detects among MPs is one he has not encountered elsewhere: high self- esteem. 'We are all familiar with low self-esteem, where the sufferer does not believe in his own worth. This is the opposite. This is a condition in which MPs come to believe they are really special people. They can't help it, really. They are treated as a local celebrity. They are always being chased for interviews and for opening of events.

'After a while they accept the world's evaluation of themselves. Then they wake up in the middle of the night and realise it's all a sham and a fraud. They have no real power. They have no real influence. They are merely cannon fodder in the voting lobbies. If the pieces in a chess set could be psychoanalysed, you would find the pawns had psychological problems similar to those of MPs.

'I had an MP come to me the other day who had an unusual problem. He was being called 'Arthur' by his colleagues. He hated it. The reason was that his name was not Arthur, it was Aubrey. It turned out that Aubrey, a Tory MP, bears a startling resemblance to a Labour MP called Arthur and was constantly being mistaken for Arthur by other Labour politicians. This was undercutting Aubrey's very existence. Almost the only things an MP can call his own are his name and his face. His soul and his mind have already been taken away. So if you suddenly find you are sharing your name and face with someone else, you are heading for anonymity.

'Incidentally, I had a visit the other day from Arthur, the Labour MP who looks so like Aubrey. He is now being called 'Aubrey' by his Labour colleagues. But he quite likes it. You see, he is gay and has started to fall in love with Aubrey. It's a sort of long-range narcissism.' And he came to Jack to discuss his problem? 'No. He came to get Aubrey's phone number.'

How long can Jack continue holding his surgery without going round the bend? 'Till I get my knighthood.' And how hard will that be to get? 'Believe me, when you know all the things I've learnt from MPs, it would be hard NOT to get a knighthood.'