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Austin Mitchell - Hero of Mirth

Austin Mitchell - Heritage Labour

Grimsby MP Austin Mitchell is a joy and an inspiration.
His website has a recipe on how to succeed as a MP. All aspirant politicians should learn it by heart. Visit www.austinmitchell.co.uk

A Guide for MPs by Austin Mitchell

It's a bit late to say that you're insane to have come here when you could have done a useful job by running a brothel, or a focus group, or even influenced government as a journalist, meeting the great, calling Ministers to account and understanding it all.

Too late for that. You've put up with all sorts of indignities to get elected to a backwater no-one's interested in, pundits and media ignore, and Tony Blair doesn't bother to attend. Now you've got to say it's the most wonderful job anyone could have and that your only desire is to serve your constituents while arranging to leave all that to staff so you can get on with the real business of getting a job, rising to the top or making money. When it comes to that we're all competitors now. So let me offer you some rules for the new politics. They apply to new MPs and those 1997 arrivals who still haven't understood what's going on.

Rule One�
Rush into Nothing. Robert Kilroy Silk ruined his political career by announcing on arrival that he'd be Leader within a decade. So shut up. Anything you say now will be taken down and used against you. Join all the groups who try to recruit you. Attend none. Commit yourself to nothing. You've got to get promoted and government prefers blank slates on which it alone can write. This advice also applies to Tories and Liberals. Labour is so inclusive it wants recruits from both and may soon offer transfer fees.

Rule Two�
Don't be Overawed. We conduct our politics in a cathedral to inculcate awe. So conform by wearing a dark suit, Paul Smith, if one still fits you, Saville Row if you're a Minister. Anything else labels you as a pansy, a fop or, if it's denim, dangerous.

Rule Three
�Don't Bother about Rules
Rule Four
�Be Nice to Whips. A distasteful aspect involving physical proximity to the kind of thugs who inhabit the Sergeant's Mess of politics. They control patronage, allocate offices, let you go home early when there's nothing to do but everyone is kept back to do it, and influence promotion. As if the Orang-utans ran the zoo.

So be nice to them. You were elected to mingle with the glitterati, but Peter Mandelson's a bit down at the moment and first you must charm Whips.
Rule Five�
Don't bother about the Chamber. The average MP only speaks four times per session and no-one listens anyway, but if you've got a hangover, feel ill or want a quiet sleep, go and sit there, nodding wisely, because it's a display case for promotion.
Rule Six
'Ear all. See all. Say Nowt. You may have developed delusions of competence, even independent thinking, during the campaign. Now you're there to say what you don't think but the Party does. Don't take sides, if your Party has them like the Conservatives, or if you're a Liberal take both. Forget Left and Right, they're irrelevant now. Be conservative, both Parties are, while claiming radicalism. Don't nail your colours to any mast, or take strong stands on foxhunting, abortion, crime, yobs, devolution, proportional representation, or (particularly) the Euro. The Party's view is bound to change and what the Tories think today Labour thinks tomorrow. Or vice versa. Endorse anything now and it's round your neck forever.

Rule Seven
Cultivate the Media Distasteful, but they are your only chance of showing constituents you're still alive. Forget websites no-one hits and speeches in Parliament no one hears or reads. Send local newspapers, TV and radio stations press releases about everything you do but don't go as far as former MP, Michael Brotherton, who sent a Press Release every time the No. 18 bus was late saying questions would be asked of the Prime Minister.

Rule Nine
Get someone else to do the drudgery You thought that you'd arrive as a tribune of the people, a man, or preferably woman, of destiny. In fact, MPs are overpaid social workers. Set up an office preferably in the constituency where wages are lower to serve the people in the thousand, usually lunatic, ways they want, and get on with being a courtier. McShanelessly. Attach yourself to a rising star. Flatter them, carry their bags and if they fail to announce that you're a fighter not a quitter while finding a new court to courtier at. Promotion is the only way to make the job worthwhile and in today's career politics rebellion as a path to the top is closed. So it's conform or grovel or both. You may even have to serve as a PPS, the Commons' version of a fag. Though we don't put it like that.

Rule Ten
Play for High Stakes Indicate that you have no ideological position which might be embarrassing as the Party changes its view. Today Ministers are managers not politicians and need management skills not ideas. Forget history. The past is another country and another Party and talking about it dates you. Be young. If you're sad enough to be over fifty try HRT, face lifts, the gym, or all three.

Avoid ideology and express yourself in Oxymorons. No one will know what they mean but "Caring Conservatism", "Market Socialism" even "People's Politicians" sound good. Saying nothing well is the art. Watch American politicians and learn it.

Rule Eleven
Prepare not to be loved MPs aren't now wanted on the media, even locally, and the people don't like politicians so pretend not to be one. Labour was re-elected on impossible promises: a First World Health Service, Education to beat the world; a competitive economy, joining the Euro and not joining it. Its luck can't go on forever and it's no longer enough to say "trust us". People don't.

This is the end of the golden weather, even if the Tories don't get themselves into shape. Unpopularity, even odium, will be an unhappy experience for new members, though those battle hardened by the Seventies and Eighties recognise it as normal. But Portcullis House makes a lovely bunker.

Rule Twelve
The Last Having read all this you may be disposed to quit. Go early before the rush of departures as the next election approaches. But get a firm job offer first: the media are full of ex MPs. Get one and go on a wave of publicity about what a dump Parliament is. Stay and you'll become addicted, hanging pathetically round the corridors for a call which will never come. Just like me.