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Sun, 21 July 2024

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By Ben Guerin
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By-Election Winner Faced "Complete Step Change" On Becoming An MP

Alistair Strathern meeting local activists while canvassing ahead of the by-election last summer (Alamy)

3 min read

Alistair Strathern, the recently elected MP for Mid-Bedfordshire has said he faced a “complete step change” on entering parliament without the resources he had enjoyed during his election campaign.

Strathern, who was elected as a Labour MP in a by-election in October, told PoliticsHome that it was somewhat “jarring” making the transition from campaigning election candidate to MP and getting used to the “madness” in Westminster.

Strathern overturned a Conservative majority in Mid Bedforshire after former Tory MP Nadine Dorries resigned last summer. 

Reflecting on his arrival in Parliament, he said that “the big thing early on” was “just getting used to the madness – It was a complete step change initially in capacity”. 

“You go from an election campaign – a by-election is a special case – but generally you’ve got lots of volunteers giving up their time, their expertise, their support, to get you over the line to do everything they can to build up your presence and responsiveness throughout that campaign," he explained. 

"Then the second election is over, they understandably go back to their lives, and just at the point where everyone’s expectations of you jump up because you’re now an MP rather than just a candidate, your capacity to do anything about that drops off.” 

The pressures then switch to the immediate priorities such as building a team and an office. Strathern has announced that he will contest the new Hitchin seat at the upcoming general election. Due to the incoming boundary changes, the seat will include parts of his current Mid Bedfordshire patch. 

There was one other contest on the same day as Strathern’s election, in Tamworth, and another shortly beforehand in Rutherglen and Hamilton West, and the MP said that campaigning for the general election at the same time as hundreds of other seats across the country is “obviously different” to that during a by-election. 

“You have a lot more ownership and responsibility as a candidate in terms of how the campaign is run,” Strathern said of the general election contest. 

“In a by-election campaign, the national party very much steps in, sets the tone, corrals volunteers, decides the message. You are there and you help to shape it, but it is done around you and to you almost. 

“The general election campaign is very much the reverse, and you are leading the effort, you are leading the messaging, you are leading the relationship building both with the community you are seeking to represent, but also within the Labour Party support base in that community to build up campaigning capacity.” 

However, one similarity he is working with this time is uncertainty over the election date, which was a feature in the early days of his by-election campaign. 

Thinking about “how you best mobilise supporters who are all very keen to see you elected but also understandably initially of the view that ‘we’ll get going when the election is finally called,’" is key, he says. He says he is utilising this longer period ahead of the election being called to help get campaigners on side and motivated.  

The moment Strathern really realised the “scale” of his new role was not the moment he first arrived in Parliament or was sworn in, he said, but rather later on.

Early on in his time in Westminster, the MP said he had a moment where “it became instinctively incredibly real” in the chamber. 

He explained: “I have such a vivid memory of where after being sworn in [...]  Rishi Sunak was about to give a statement on Gaza and our involvement. 

It was my first time in the chamber sitting on the benches and you just suddenly are instinctively aware of the way in which your life and your role [...] has completely changed. 

“You're no longer an observer, you are a participant in what's happening.”

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