17 May 2013 at 11:38
Downing Street must be heaving an enormous sigh of relief that the hitherto unknown backbencher, James Wharton, won first place on the ballot for introducing a Bill. Sadly, all we know about the chap is that he has a wafer thin majority of 332, is very young, a commercial solicitor and has some incomprehensible connection with sandstone penises.But joy of joys he is not on the Broadmoor wing of the Conservative party.
He will not be short of advice. Nevertheless, here is mine.
James, old son, you probably haven’t realised that this is the most important thing you will ever do in Parliament even If you become a junior minister which just means you have a nice red box, the occasional use of a mid range family saloon, sign pointless letters and make lifeless speeches that nobody else wants to make.
Firstly, although this is technically your bill, you are merely the host for a Number 10 political strategy. So take advice from the Chief Whip. He is the guy who will be marching the troops through the lobbies for you. Insist that you have an experienced minder and consult before you utter a word to the press. They are not there to be your friend. They want stories about rebellion and division and what may seem a sensible comment from you will be twisted and deformed as an attack on your leader.
Don’t go on Newsnight and avoid the Today programme like the plague. If you feel that you have to appear on the radio be interviewed by Jeremy Vine. He is not a soft touch, but he is canny enough to know that the housewives would regard turning over a fresh faced lad as akin to child abuse.
You will be invited to lunch by big name journalists. Never go alone. They will eat you for breakfast. Your first point of journalistic contact should be your local press and radio station. By now you should have built up a strong relationship with them. They are less likely to shaft you and will remember that you spoke to them first.
And remember the golden rule. If you are going to give background information which you would rather not see in print say the magic words, “off the record” at the outset.
Next take advice on who will sponsor the Bill. Try and get a good mix of sensible sceptics and Europhiles. You want to show that this is not a rebel Bill but represents all wings of the party.
You will find that you have never had so many friends. Be cautious. You are a dolphin in a sea of sharks. The ambitious and the bitter will want to use you. Keep your counsel close to your chest. But find an experienced hand whom you can trust and don’t let them leave your side.
And when dealing with the Lobby, don’t be clever, bumptious or lie. They won’t forget or forgive. There will be very few members of the lobby you can trust. But they do exist. Nigel Nelson of the PEOPLE is a veteran of the lobby. He has been my friend for over twenty five years. I would trust him with my life. Give him a ring.
Once the euphoria dies down you will be under tremendous stress and pressure. Everyone knows that the Lib Dem and Labour policy on Europe is a shambles. Rise above cheap shots. Don’t worry there will be plenty of others who will put the boot in.
You must be seen as sensible, sane and reasoned giving the British people a chance to cast their vote after Cameron’s negotiations. Of course the Bill will fail. But someone untainted with the past is an asset. Don’t waste it.
Do not make the mistake of answering the hypothetical question of how you would vote if the referendum was tomorrow. And get someone to trawl through your past speeches and election material and have a position. We all say daft things at election times. Remember there is no such thing as a private supper party.
And finally when you steer your Bill through the first stage answer you opponents with courtesy. And don’t accept any amendments without advice.
Oh and if you see Bill Cash approaching with a wedge of papers tied up with string covered in green ink, run for the hills.Remember the wise words of Alan Clark that when people offer you advice ask yourself, “what’s in it for them?”
If you get this right you will have a grateful Prime Minister.
But if it goes tits up best dust down the law books.