April Skies

I’m on the last train to London. Too tired to blog about anything which requires any engagement of brain cells… There are several reasons why.

Firstly, I’m having to spend Fridays in London at the moment as we’ve got a run of Friday sittings to get through Private Members business before the election. (I say ‘get through’ – if anything about the parliamentary process was in need of reform, it’s what happens on Fridays, when the filibuster still reigns supreme. More about that later, perhaps). I’m one of the Friday whips, so I have to be there to cover bench duty till about 3pm, which more or less rules out getting back to Bristol till the evening. So basically, a lot of the stuff I would do on Fridays in my constituency has to be done over the weekend. I was in the office for several hours earlier this evening, after spending an hour at the home the family of a constituent who has been arrested for plane-spotting in India. We’re hoping he’ll be allowed to come home after a court appearance on Wednesday, but I’ve got some early morning phone calls to make to India tomorrow, to try to get updates from his lawyer and the High Commission.

Another reason is that campaigning has stepped up a gear, and the weather has by and large been in our favour, so no rained-off sessions giving an excuse to spend an afternoon on the sofa. I was out today in Brislington (the Hungerford Road area) and again yesterday (the bit of Broomhill up by the industrial estate). Picked up a fair bit of casework, which was one of the reasons I had to go into the office this evening. I find if I don’t transcribe my scribbled notes as soon as possible, they make very little sense.

The third reason is that, as interest in the election grows, the number of letters and emails and requests to sign up to campaign pledges grows too. I’m trying to suss out how to make it easy for voters to see what I’ve signed up to, but not sure my website can be adapted… we’re working on it. The requests to take part in election hustings/ Q and A panels are also coming in… I took part in one on Saturday, organised by the African-Caribbean community, and met some excellent people. Lots of my cards given out, and lots of issues to follow up on. I’ve already agreed to a few more. There’s one at St Brendan’s Sixth Form soon, and another one in April organised by the two unis, for their staff. If there are any that are open to the general public – e.g. the churches organised some last time round – I’ll stick it on the Facebook site and/or here.

Fourth reason… Campaigns don’t just plan themselves. I’ve got a great bunch of volunteers, but there’s still leaflets to be approved, fundraising to organise, ministerial visits to arrange, and 101 other things to get sorted, like the website and facebook and changing my Twitter name, which I will get round to eventually. We’ll be doing a fair bit of direct mailing – i.e. writing to voters on issues that we know they’re interested in, or concerned about – and it’s important to get the text of these right. All the parties will have their centrally-produced copy, but I prefer to do it myself. I don’t want to put out anything in my name that doesn’t actually sound like me.

The role I have in the national campaign, as the new media spokesperson, is also taking up a fair bit of time. Lots of requests for interviews (especially from students doing their dissertations and sorry for all those who have sent in emails but haven’t heard back from me yet – will get round to you soon!) but also from the national press and the more techy/ PR/ new media press. There’s a real fascination out there in the mainstream media as to what role new media will play in the campaign, especially as the contrast between the Tory loads-of-money campaign and Labour’s “fighters and believers” becomes more apparent, and as the Labour approach – authenticity, passion, and policies – appears to be paying off in the polls.

And finally, there is of course the fact that everyone is now working towards a deadline that is getting ever closer. I very much doubt the election will be held any earlier than May 6th (though I’m certainly not ‘in the loop’ as far as discussions about that go). On that reckoning we’ve got about 5 weeks left in Parliament, and a lot of business to get through. I’m the Northern Ireland whip, for example, and there are various statutory instruments which absolutely have to be in place before elections take place there.

We also have to clear our desks this month. We’re not allowed to use our parliamentary offices after “wash-up”… that’s the period immediately after the Prime Minister goes to the palace, when the parties try to agree on as much of the outstanding legislation as possible. If there’s consensus, some stuff will go through; if there’s not, it won’t. We can go into the office to pick up stuff, but the computers can’t be used and no work can be carried out. By contrast, staff in the constituency can continue to handle existing casework, but not new casework. If we pick up new casework on the campaign trail, after I’ve ceased to be an MP and am just a candidate, then I will have to handle it myself or get volunteers to help out. Most likely the former.

In fact I’m still trying to work out the details of exactly what the rules on dissolution are. I know, for example, we can’t use our parliamentary email addresses, but not sure if we can still check parliamentary email or whether the accounts are completely disabled. I assume staff handling casework can still access their email, otherwise it could make life very difficult for people trying to contact us. So there’s all that to look into too. And letters to write to people who have been constituents for the past five years, and have been helped by my office, but will be going into a new constituency. All that kind of stuff.

So, there you go… that’s the next month taken care of. Next post will be about the campaign to save BBC 6 Music, but my train will be getting into London very soon, so will save that one for tomorrow. I’ll be glad when the election is called and I can spend the whole month in Bristol.

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