Magazine article The Spectator

Tricks of the Trade

Magazine article The Spectator

Tricks of the Trade

Article excerpt

Aspiring MPs - as well as their prospective constituents - should listen to a weekly four-part series on Radio Four, Brandreth Rules, part of the consistently excellent The Westminster Hour (Sundays) in which Gyles Brandreth, an entertaining writer and broadcaster, suggests ways of members keeping their parliamentary seats. One wonders if he took his own amusing and sound advice as he lost his seat in the Labour landslide, though I doubt if any number of tricks and effort then would have saved Chester City for him.

Still, it's fun listening to his rules and Brandreth is never dull. The key, he said, was to make your constituents love you by securing your base. 'When the going gets tough . . . and you've been found badger-watching on the common at midnight, you'll need friends and the friends you'll need most are your constituents.' So rule number one was to know the constituency. Don't be seen wandering around it with a map and don't do what he did, turn up at a football match 30 minutes after it had started because he went, by mistake, to the dog track first.

Rule two was to know the constituents. 'If you only hang out with party activists and councillors you're doomed. However reluctantly, they'll vote for you anyway.' It was important to meet as many normal people as possible. Look them in the face, give a firm handshake and try to remember who they are. 'In time, you'll get accustomed to the dreaded words, "You don't remember me, do you?" ' And if you bluff your way through and enquire about the family, 'you'll find you're talking to a childless widowed orphan'.

Brandreth interviewed the Scottish Lib Dem MP John Thurso, whose scat covers a thousand square miles of the Highlands. His grandfather, also an MP, had his own trick. He'd go up to people, grasping them with both hands and say, 'Now tell me your name/ And if they replied, 'It's Mr McKay,' he would say, Of course, I know it's Mr McKay, it's your first name I meant.' Or if they said, 'It's Jock,' he'd answer, I know it's Jock, what's your last name?' Harold Macmillan was given to saying genially to a constituent, 'And how is the old complaint?' which Brandreth thought was asking for trouble.

Saturday surgeries were fraught with problems. According to Brandreth, Glenda Jackson has come to believe that the land is overflowing with the paranoid. She's met many over the years who are convinced they're the target of dark forces. …

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