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Jerry Hayes

My father’s advice should be heeded by MPs. “Always buy your round, never bollock an employee in public and never, ever, humiliate those who can’t answer back.”

August 28th, 2010 by Jerry Hayes

Many years ago, when I was a baby barrister, an elderly judge summoned me into his chambers. After pouring me a bowl of malt whiskey (well, it was 11am), he leaned towards me. “Young man, I’m going to give you some advice that has stood me in good stead all my life”. Eagerly I awaited the words of wisdom. A catchy little line from Cicero? Some wise words from Socrates? A bon mot from Homer?  ”My boy, just remember this. Never miss the opportunity to have a pee. Never trust a fart. And never waste an erection, particularly when you are on your own”. Then off he staggered to sentence my client to ten years.

Well, that was good advice, but not as wise the the three cardinal rules that were drummed into me by my father. “Always buy your round. Never bollock an employee in public. And never, ever, be rude or humiliate those who can’t answer back.”  Those simple rules have given me an instinctive revulsion to those who are rude to secretaries, waiters or anyone who could lose their jobs if they answered back.

I find it almost incomprehensible that so many MPs have not grasped why the public treat them with less respect than those who appear on the Jeremy Kyle Show. At the last election even the Jehovah’s Witnesses were treated with more warmth when they banged on doors. So, after all the horrors of the great expenses scandal, a little humility would not go amiss. People could not comprehend why the political classes thought it was perfectly permissible to hold out their grubby little palms for free food, trips to Party Conferences, cash without receipts and most sickening of all, wreaths for the Glorious Dead on Remembrance Sunday.  And now, what do these insensitive, vain, little Hobbits do?  They shout, scream, swear and abuse those who are trying to help them through the labyrinthian new system of expenses. Of course the new arrangements are quite insane. It is mad that MPs should have to jump through all the Kafkaesque administrative hoops. And of course there will have to be some commonsense changes. But mateys, you were caught with your fingers in the till, our till, and you set up the new system; you reap what you sow.

I know MPs, even the thoroughly decent Denis McShane, have been parading bleeding stumps, “exhausted after the campaign…….I didn’t come here to be a clerk, but to help my constituents, blah, blah, blah.”  But there can never, ever be any excuse for foul behaviour to staff. So, do MPs have to adopt  different rules of conduct than the rest of the public? In short, yes. In the same way that we expect higher standards from the police and the armed services. It is what makes us civilised. It is what makes us British.

I can honestly say that in my fourteen years in Parliament I never saw a member of staff being shouted at or reduced to tears. Alright, you had pompous old farts like Roy Hattersley who made sure everyone knew their place; provided it was well below him. Even Diane Abbott  had a reputation for being shirty with the police. And there was that wonderful time when Ann Clwyd accused security staff of being negligent when her car had been stolen from the Members’ car park. She raised merry hell. Only discover that it hadn’t been stolen at all. She had just left it in another car park at a main line station. But that was the sum of it all. Nothing to hang your head in shame for.

Perhaps attitudes changed when the In the Thick of it mentality became the perceived norm for behaviour. If  Members saw Campbell scream at a journo, Mandelson threaten colleagues or Brown’s thugs making the Krays look like naughty schoolboys, maybe they thought that’s how they should behave.

But a word of warning. Anyone, who has been abusive to waiters knows that they are perfectly capable of peeing in the soup or snotting in your porridge. Members of Parliament had better adapt or be regarded as only marginally more popular than burglars .

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The Lib Dems, as well as being a welcome conscience to the Tories, have earned power by understanding restraint

June 25th, 2010 by Jerry Hayes

Despite the fact that some Tory MPs pay good money for it, discipline is not all that popular in the Commons and has never been fashionable with the Lib Dems. But without it, government is paralysed, and leadership is merely running just ahead of the mob. You just have to have a strong Whip’s Office with an effective intelligence service. Gone are the days of the thuggery of the Labour strongmen like Michael Cox and Bob Mellish. They had to deal with tough working men from the Unions who would think nothing of flooring a colleague in argument and would give as good as they got. I can remember, before cctv was installed in the chamber, witnessing the delightfully deranged Ron Brown smashing the mace. In mid debate, Deputy Chief Whip, Don Dixon, an enormous man built like a bull, looked him straight in the eye, thumped him hard in the stomach, threw him over his shoulder in a fireman’s lift and took him into a corridor to give him a good talking to. Nobody batted an eyelid. And then there was the legendary Walter Harrison. He thoroughly disapproved of drunkeness and sexual shenanigans on overseas trips, locking MPs in their hotel rooms after eleven. He once exploded when he heard that someone was abroad when he should have been voting. “Get me the bastard” he screamed. The MP eventually phoned him. “And where the fuck are you son?”   “Well, actually”, said the quivering wretch, “I’m in Crete”. “Well, if you’re not back for the vote lad, you’ll be in fucking concrete”. He returned.

The Tories had their moments too. Sir Spencer Marchant, a delightful and very wealthy drunk, spied one of his charges creeping out of the Stephens, before an important vote. Puce with rage, he chased after the fellow and kicked him down the stairs with a, “don’t you think I don’t know what you’re up to you little shit”. Sadly, it was the Peruvian Ambassador on his way home from dinner with the Foreign Secretary.  And then there was the wonderful, twenty five stone figure of David Lightbown, known as the caring whip. There was a much exaggerated account of fisticuffs between us after I had led a rebellion on a standing committee. What really happened was, after a salty altercation involving talk of sex and travel, he gave me a gentle dig in the ribs and in return I gave him a playful knee in the groin. All very grown up.

But it is all much subtler nowadays. There will always be a Beria like presence at every meeting, every department, the Tea room, the dining rooms, the bars. These shadowy figure will be soaking up the mood, noting the little betrayals, listening to the weasels, flattering the vain and bribing the ambitious. And watching the political Meercats sniffing the air for advantage. There will always be those who will sell their souls for a red box.

I would be lying if I did not admit to stunned amazement at how well The Coalition is holding together. Of course, it’s early days and Labour  is leaderless. My greatest fear was that the Lib Dems would be totally unwhippable and as unpredictable and capricious as Terry Wogan’s toupe . The first real test was newly elected Deputy Leader, Simon Hughes’s bit of bonkery in saying that they could make amendments to the Budget. Well that didn’t last for long. You could almost feel the Chief Whip applying the pressure to his left gonad as, the “clarification” was written within a couple of hours. All a terrible misunderstanding, “No plans to amend…….purely hypothetical….blah, blah,blah”. The Kremlinologists should inspect this with  care. It shows that the Lib Dems are in for the long haul. Not only are they becoming a very welcome conscience for the Tories, but they have shown that they have earned power by understanding the importance of restraint. The Labour leadership contenders should be very, very, worried.

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