Thursday 24 August 2017

How to be an MP by the politician who actually wrote the book

We spoke to the author behind one of the most borrowed books in the House of Commons library.

By Nicola Irwin

With voting under way, #dogsatpollingstations trending and returning officers primed for overnight counts there is not much more that the parliamentary candidates can do to guarantee a win.

Come June 9 though, the real work begins for the 650 MPs returned to Westminster. The new class of 2017 will need to learn everything from the mundane – navigating their way around a new office – to how to make political headway and getting to grips with doughnutting (that’s making sure you are in the TV shot when someone asks a question in PMQs).

Luckily, for those needing to be enlightened, there is a guide penned by someone who has served in Westminster for more than three decades. Paul Flynn’s book How To Be An MP was first published in 2012. Since then it has been routinely included on the list of most borrowed books from the House of Commons library.

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We asked Flynn, himself seeking re-election as Labour MP for Newport West, what wisdom he would like to share with the political freshmen this time around.

What’s the most important thing in the first few days?

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They need to find friends. People they can trust. If you can get on with neighbouring MPs or those with similar interests. It’s best to have someone to learn and blunder through with.

It has to be someone from their year (when first elected). Hand holding is not advisable.

Is this parliament going to be different for newcomers, what with Brexit?

It’s going to be a nightmare. They will be hitting the ground stumbling. No-one will be clear what’s going to happen. The legislative burden is going to be quite something. There will be late-night sittings. The Brexit legislation is going to be on top of normal work.

Will a large majority make it easier or harder for new MPs?

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The governments with overwhelming majorities are the worst ones. There is nothing more damaging. There are fewer jobs to go around. They (the new MPs) will be fishing around for things to do.

What are the pitfalls they can make?

The answer is not always legislation. It can sometimes do more harm than good.

What do they need to get to grips with?

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We’re stumbling into an age of political influence that’s not very well understood. People are getting information, they don’t realise it’s propaganda, based on your Facebook information – little quizzes and Facebook ‘likes’. It’s up to the MPs to understand this.

How should the new MPs relax?

They should go to the Donmar Warehouse to watch Committee. (Committee is a musical is based on evidence given to a select committee on the failure of charity Kids Company).

It’s essential to go there and enjoy a rich cultural musical experience and a lesson on select committees.

Well that’s them told. The musical opens on June 23 and runs until August.

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