The selection process has started for the Loughborough constituency to be the next Labour candidate and of course by definition the hope to be the next Labour MP . Here are a few draft and random thoughts on the process and what people applying have in store.
As a quick aside I have already made it clear that I won’t be running again in this selection. The reasons are all personal – about being available for my family when I spent 20+ years putting the strain of being a candidate and MP on them. It’s time to put them first again.
Having thought about running for a couple of weeks, and deciding I won’t go for it, the irony is that I feel now I am much better suited to be a good MP than I was when I was elected in 1997 at the age of 32! I now know what it takes to do the role and with age does come wisdom. I would be a much better rounded person than I was in 1997.
So today I am starting to set out what the role entails, and what specific skills and personal attributes I think a candidate and MP for Loughborough will need. I have seen a few people throw their names into the ring and wonder if they realise what the role entails and of they have thought through if they have the time, commitment, and all round skill set to be a successful MP? Hope this helps candidates decide, and the membership in Loughborough understand what role they are choosing a candidate for!
As you might see from how I describe the role below – this isn’t a role for the feint hearted !!
Is it a Job?
Is is a job? Whilst of course you are paid to carry out the duties of an MP there is no specific JD or way of working. This is a vocation and lifestyle as a much as a job. You will find you have given over your life 24/7 to you constituents and Westminster. In a 24/7 media cycle with the immediacy of social media it is almost impossible to switch off! So be prepared for long hours, and little recognition for your graft!
This is not one role. It is several. As a candidate you are a motivator, a media spokesperson, active on social media, good talking to people on the doorstep and are relatable. You need a grasp on the hundreds of issues across the constituency, from housing, planning, local authority spending, the work and challenges of local businesses, voluntary a and faith groups. You will need to relate to local pressure groups and charities. You need to develop relationships with local councillors and the Parish councils across the constituency. You need to understand every inch of the constituency and the nuances. You need to understand the town and its various wards, as well as the villages from and the town of Shepshed. Each is very different. Each has a different history and how it feels about its place.
Being a Candidate
Being a candidate is hard work and often lonely.
But if you thought being a candidate was tough your first day in Parliament is a rude awakening. Day one and I had sacks of post waiting for me and even at the time 4-600 emails a day to deal with.
You are now a small business. You have to set up and run an office in Westminster and in the constituency, dealing with contracts and leases and setting up payments. I will talk at length about this issue. These figures – your office rent and staff costs all get lumped by the media into your annual ‘expenses’ figures. You will be abused daily because people think you get expenses of #150k per annum. You never see a penny. It goes direct to pay the rent, rates, and staff wages. But you need to get used to the idea of abuse quite quickly!!
You have several roles from then on. First and foremost you have been elected as an MP to represent Loughborough, but to serve the national interest. Every day in the prayers before parliament sits you re confirm that you will set aside all constituency and personal interests to pursue the national interest. This is important as we will see later. Good governance requires good MPs who can run things if they become Ministers or can scrutinise the government from the back benches or opposition. That means understanding the parliamentary process and the creation of legislation. I was lucky to have spent time inside parliament before becoming an MP to get a basic understanding of this.
Expert on hundreds of issues
You will need a view on a wide range of subjects – detailed economics, budgets, tax, revenue, fiscal and monetary policy. You will need to know about the details of the NHS, Schools colleges and University sector. You will need to know about Work and Pension and benefits. You will need to know about prisons, policing and immigration. You need to know these at a quite a level of detail to make sense of the issues. You will need to know about transport, international development, foreign policy for every region of the world (what’s your view on the situation in Tigray? There will be somebody who asks you)
You will need to know about the work of departments like BEIS and Levelling Up and of course my old stomping ground of DCMS and Environment. We have over 100 farmers in Loughborough so you will need to understand farming and environmental issues too. Quarterly meetings with farmers was always the best coffee and cake and pretty robust exchanges!
Once you have mastered every national and international issue, it’s your chance to promote the causes in your constituency to each of these Ministers. The phase 2 of the Épinal Way hospital, the new Business units and the regenerated train station took several years of lobbying and piecing together funding streams and complex legal issues. Building up Loughborough University and its sports reputation, (as well as many other highly successful schools on campus ) but doing it in a way that remained sensitive to local residents needs through the growth of HMO’s was a constant struggle. You will be lobbied on every subject imaginable and there are APPGs for every subject you might have an interest. Your time is rarely your own. But you can carve out special areas of interest.
Then comes the formal role in Westminster – making your maiden speech and starting to ask oral and written PQs to Ministers. You will find your self sitting in the Committee rooms scrutinising legislation line by line for weeks at a time. You need a legal and political brain to work through the consequences of legislation. In hindsight this is where I would now be much better. I have seen the consequences of poorly drafted Acts!
You will find yourself on SI Committees or Select Committees. There will be international delegations who want to meet you if you have country specific interests. Sometime a Select Committee gets a moment of glory of a top politician star or business makes the national news. But mostly they produce reports that eventually largely get ignored.
And finally after spending Monday to Thursday in Westminster you come home for your constituency weekends. It now gets really busy. You need to hold surgeries (hours of working with individuals through some of the most complex and horrific stories of personal tragedy) Very satisfying though when you get a win! You have 30+ schools, 30+ religious places of worship, 2000 charities, 2000 SMEs and many large companies. You have to get to know them all and their concerns. It’s an impossible task in the 2 days a week during Westminster sitting days. You will have invites to a hundred events a week but can probably only do 4-5.
You will meet some of the best people. The volunteers and those with a warm heart who serve our fellow citizens without fanfare. You will also come across some really unpleasant and nasty people. Social media has exacerbated levels of hatred. As you know two MPs have been killed in recent years. Threats of violence and personal safety are an issue. I don’t want to sugarcoat this bit. Be prepared to be abused.
Most of all in the constituency you are now representing all 70,000 people. You may have won the election but in a constituency like Loughborough the majority won’t have voted for you. When I won with 50% of the vote, I also knew 30% of people had’t voted. Ie about 20,000 people. I had to represent them and the other 50% who voted for other parties. You are now a Labour MP but you serve everyone equally.
So this give a very brief taste of the various roles of an MP. I will return with more details in blog about the issues in the country and constituency I want to see a candidate understand and have the skills to be able to do something about. So I will be testing the shortlisted candidates with a series of open questions. I will share these and their answers and probably comment on what I get back. It is the process I will go through and if it is of any use to anybody else – help yourself. But I do hope 30 years of experience might be fo some use?
Having said all of this. I would still love to go back and do the role again – if it wasn’t so all consuming of life. I have rather got used to having a life/ work balance and I can’t go backwards!