Motherly Advice: Harriet Harman's top tips for new MPs
Mother of the House, Harriet Harman, has been an MP for 37 years. She shares her advice for the newest faces in the Commons
Congratulations on being elected as a Member of Parliament. For 140 of you, this is the first time you’ve been on the green benches. So here are my 10 top tips.
- First thing to remember is that you are not a trainee MP or an apprentice MP. You’re the real thing and you have been from the moment you got elected. You’re the only MP for your constituency and they will now be looking to you to take up their issues and help with their problems. They are depending on you.
- You’re new but you’re not a “junior MP”. You got here in the same way as those of us who’ve stood in many elections. And that puts you on exactly the same footing as someone who has been here decades. So don’t let any old hands try and “put you in your place” or imply that you’re getting too big for your boots. Your constituency is equal to theirs so you have an equal right, and an equal duty – do whatever you think you should.
- How you vote is important and it is your choice and no-one else’s. No-one can force you to vote in a certain way. And by the same token you can’t blame anyone else for how you voted. “The Whips made me” is not a thing. No-one is interested in an MP who says they voted for something they disagreed with because they were put under pressure. I’ve always voted with the Whip but that’s my choice not theirs.
- Ignore any longstanding MP who tells you to keep your head down till you’ve “learnt the ropes”. Your constituents want to see you blazing a trail, not keeping your head down.
- There’s no “right” or wrong way to be an MP. However you feel is right is the right way for you to do it. You can be the same as other MPs or you can be different. It’s up to you.
- There’s no point in being anonymous. Your constituents who elected you need to see and hear from you. So get out there! You are bound to do and say loads of things that you later regret (don’t we all every day!), but that’s better than being immobilised by risk avoidance.
- Be nice to all your constituents all the time. Sometimes, especially if they are at the end of their tether, they are rude or aggressive. You help democracy by showing you’ll help them. And remember that though you might routinely send out hundreds of emails every week, to the recipient it is super important – it’s from the MP!
- Don’t get immobilised by worrying that you might be breaking the rules. There are literally thousands of rules and no-one knows them all. People who pretend they do are just bluffing and are often wrong. There are countless unwritten rules which you can ignore. If they were not worth writing down, then they are not important.
- Be nice to all the Commons staff, including security, cleaners and catering (many of whom are my hardworking constituents!). And recognise how much you owe your own staff who will carry your reputation.
- If you want to do something like serve on a committee then tell the Whips. It’s helpful for them to know of your interest and they are not mind readers. Don’t wait for the “tap on the shoulder”. It might never come.
Finally, ignore any of the above 10 points. However you do it is right – so long as you are trying your best. And good luck!
Harriet Harman is Labour MP for Camberwell and Peckham
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