CHRIS MULLIN OFFERS SOME ADVICE TO NEW MPs (1992 INTAKE)
Welcome. You are entering a world where it is difficult to persuade anyone to concentrate on anything for longer than a sound byte - and where anyone who does risks being labeled an obsessive.
If, like me when I was first elected, you come to Parliament without the prospect of being given the merest responsibility, do not despair. Do what I did: set up your own department.
Mine was the Department of Justice. As you may have noticed, we had some successes. Most of these occurred at a time when there was a Tory Government with a majority of nearly one hundred seats. Hopefully, under a Labour Government, life will be easier, but don't count on it.
How do you go about campaigning in Parliament? Here are some tips:-
First, choose your cause. We all have issues we care about and which do not feature high on anyone else's agenda. Your cause does not have to be popular, but you do have to be confident that it is just.
Second, be persistent (but not, for heaven's sake boring). If Ministers do not give satisfactory answers, go back for more.
Third, don't be afraid to be denounced. There is nothing like a good denunciation for bringing an important issue to the attention of those who might not otherwise notice. I owe a particular debt of gratitude to former Home Secretary, David Waddington, and his colleague, John Patten, (not to mention 'The Sun' newspaper) for their periodic denunciations. A framed copy of 'The Sun' front page headlined "LOONY MP BACKS BOMB GANG", has pride of place on the wall of my study.
Fourth, surprise the enemy. Crop up where they are not expecting you. During one of Gorbachev's visits, I offered to introduce him to the relatives of the Birmingham Six. Eventually, the Russians started raising the case every time Ministers started lecturing them on human rights. Our masters found this deeply upsetting.
Five, don't be afraid of cross-party alliances. Some colleagues take the purist view that one-issue alliances with people from a different end of the political spectrum are unacceptable no matter how worthy the cause. I suffer from no such inhibitions. To win, especially on a controversial issue, you need as broad a base as possible. Offers of help, from whatever source, should be gratefully received.
Finally, beware of being labeled a one-issue politician. A single issue campaign is not a substitute for constituency work or an interest in mainstream issues.
There are those whose definition of victory is when our side has the jobs. My definition of victory is when something changes for the better, no matter who has the jobs. Good luck.
Chris Mullin is Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee and Member of Parliament for Sunderland South.