Thursday, November 18, 2004

Oh for the electronic age

Yesterday was a typical day for this stage in the parliamentary cycle and I have to say that my time could have been much more productively used.
So here is a step by step account (and there were a lot of steps racked up on the old pedometer to boot)
Walked to Millbank Studios for 8:30 re-shoot of piece for Daily Politics Show as they had had a rethink about how they wanted to present the item. Finished at 9
9.05 In House of Commons chamber reserving my seat for "prayers" (convention dicatates that if you are present in your reserved seat for prayers then it is your seat for the rest of the day. Many people like to reserve a prime slot for Prime Ministers Question Time)
9.10 In office and switch on lap top. Fill in survey while waiting for it to become usable
9.15 Write piece for Romsey Advertiser
10.00 Researcher is off sick so open a mountain of post. File 90% of it in the bin, check constituents letters to see if any require immediate action and are worthy of queue jumping and decide which invitations I am going to accept.
10.45 Phone calls to constituents who have contacted me plus attempt to catch up with a local journalist. Frustratingly most are out but manage to read a few letters from Govt departments whilst I am waiting.
11.20 Walk over to HOC chamber for prayers (visiting whips office en route)
11.30 Prayers
11.33 Stay in Chamber for Questions to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and also for Prime Ministers Question Time
12.30-12.37 - listened to points of order
12.37 to tea room for a salad lunch
12.47 interrupted half way through by division bell - went to vote
1ish- finished lunch - back to office to deal with in-tray
1.55 Division - Civil Contingencies Bill - voted
2.10 Back in office- dealt with some outstanding e-mails
2.43 Division - civil contingencies again - voted
3ish - back in office and start writing a particularly sensitive e-mail. Just getting into it when..
3.30 - Division - more civil contingencies - voted
Another vote is expected at 4 so try and obtain copy of report into gulf war illness so that I have something to read. Strangely it is not available so I fill out the form to order a copy and then visit library and log onto a computer so that I can deal with a few more e-mails
4.02 Division - voted
4.10 Back in office and try and pick up thoughts on tricky e-mail that I started earlier. Business has now moved on to housing bill and it is not clear whether there will be further votes.
more e-mails but still haven't completely cleared the in box. Manage to catch up with local journalist who has been trying to reach me.
5.10 CSCI have dropped off an advance copy of the star ratings. Leg it over to Members Lobby to pick up the copy. Try and get the gist of a 200 page report in 10 minutes reading (their executive summary is all sweetness and light so not very useful) before ringing press office to decide what we are going to put out as a press release. This makes me late for the 5:30 parliamentary party meeting.

Business is currently suspended as we are awaiting further messages from the Lords.

Read more CSCI report while keeping an ear on the parliamentary party meeting which was realtively routine

6:30 Drink with colleagues in the Pugin room - who should be there but Margaret Thatcher - the Lords are out in force because the opportunity to vote on civil partnerships and hunting in a single day seems very exciting for some of them.

7.00 - Business motion so that we could sit beyond 7 but that is a technicality. It was as clear as mud what was happening when so a little later we decided to eat in Members Dining Room. It was packed - quite like old times but unfortunately the staff have been cut back so service was understandably slow. In the Paddy Ashdown days I am told that everyone ate in the dining room on Wednesday as Paddy was there and was happy to discuss anything. Although Charles does not adopt the same approach the habit has remained to a degree and on Wednesday evenings it is a good chance to catch up with colleagues. During the rest of the week we are all very busy with our own agendas so it is good to make some time for a bit of networking.

Division - Pensions Bill

It then became clear that there would be no further business so had a coffee, grabbed some papers and went home.

I recount all of this to try and give an indication of how disruptive the divisions can be. Those of us with offices on the furthest reaches of the parliamentary estate spend a lot of time and energy trotting backwards and forwards. The place is resistant to the use of technology to streamline the process but I can only say that the opportunity to lobby Ministers/colleagues has been tested to the limit by the time we are trudging through the lobbies for the sixth time in a day.