Page last updated at 08:22 GMT, Tuesday, 1 June 2010 09:22 UK

New MP diaries: The first three weeks

MP photo call

The largest number of new MPs have begun work at Westminster for a generation, but what is it really like behind the scenes? Five of them told their stories to BBC Radio 4.

RORY STEWART - Conservative MP for Penrith and the Border

Rory Stewart

Before becoming an MP, Rory Stewart has worked as an author and academic.

He was even briefly a part of the British Army in the Black Watch and then a diplomat for the Foreign Office in Montenegro in the wake of the Kosovo war.

Before the election he spent six weeks hiking though his future constituency. He was born in Hong Kong and is 37 years old.


WEEK ONE: Last night was the most dramatic event I think I've ever witnessed.

It was in the 1922 committee room, incredible, as you can imagine, panelled oaked room with pictures of Gladstone at the back and so many Conservative MPs gathered in that room that I ended up sitting on the floor cross-legged in the middle of the aisle with all these people sitting around.

It felt a little bit like I had turned up at a dance and somehow was wearing the wrong kind of shoes
Rory Stewart

When Cameron came into the room there was this incredible clattering and thumping as people banged the tables really, really hard.

David Cameron then sat there for about an hour, talking through the options available for a coalition with the Liberal Democrats and you could see the faces of the young MPs, myself and over 100 people who have just arrived adjusting to this; trying to get a sense of how much they could say.

Was there going to be a vote at the end? There turned out not to be. Were we going to really engage in the debate? To what extent was this theatre? Were we watching history unfolding in front of us? Were we influencing it or were we just, in the end, part of the furniture?

Or, in my case, obviously not sitting on the furniture at all - just part of the carpet.

WEEK TWO: One of the things that was very striking as we came out of our first big meeting in the chamber was getting to know the new members of Parliament.

Not so much on the Conservative side but particularly on the Labour side because, of course, all the Lib Dems are sitting on the same side of us.

So across the aisle are these young Labour people. I've got a friend called Tristram Hunt (MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central), who I like very much, who is sitting over there.

He was sitting next to a very glamorous looking person called Gloria De Piero (MP for Ashfield), who's a celebrity TV journalist, and I went over to talk to them afterwards. They seem to be quite young, quite informal - quite a fun group.

I actually had a very good conversation with some of them though I must confess there was a moment I thought, when I was talking to Luciana Berger (MP for Liverpool Wavertree), that when I told her I was a Tory she didn't seem so keen on talking to me anymore.

It felt a little bit like I had turned up at a dance and somehow was wearing the wrong kind of shoes.

DAVID WARD - Liberal Democrat MP for Bradford East

David Ward

David Ward has been involved in politics on a local level for over 20 years.

Before becoming an MP he worked for Leeds Metropolitan University. He has lived in Bradford with his wife for over 30 years.


WEEK ONE: So today was the first day of my term as a Member of Parliament. I came down on the train this morning and I was far more nervous than I expected to be.

I woke up this morning and there were 2,466 emails from those campaigners who are trying to make sure that we push for PR and hold to our election commitments.

I was met at the station by Holly, who works in the Whips office, and treated as if I was a very special person - lots of staff around, men in long tails and white bow ties and shown around and it was a wonderful experience but so surreal to think that this thing had actually happened.

I had an early start with Look North doing a piece on new boys in Parliament - two Tories, two Labour and myself. We were stood around for a while waiting for a reporter to set up. I still find it easier to just go across and chat to the two Labour MPs than the Tories.

I still find it easier to just go across and chat to the two Labour MPs than the Tories
David Ward

Do I feel a part of history? Well, definitely not really. It's strange, when you're actually inside it, it's very difficult. Maybe it's only looking back in time you realise that you were part of something that probably was historic.

Also, we sat on the green benches for the first time today. I was late into the chamber so I actually sat next to the Labour members.

The young Labour MP next to me, assuming I was one of her New Labour colleagues, said "My God, look across there, don't those Tories all look like stereotypical Tories?" to which I replied "Mmmm… quite. And I've got to work with them".

WEEK TWO: And I just want to get on with work. I'm looking now at my notes here. There are some trivial things, I suppose, about sorting out how to get in the gym but I haven't got my laptop sorted out yet and I don't know what to do when guests arrive.

I've got to check my rail ticket for getting back home - it's my son's birthday on Thursday and I'm actually taking a later train because it's £40 cheaper so I'll get home at 11pm on his birthday.

I'm saving the taxpayer £40 but is this really what I want to be doing to my son on his birthday and missing the meal I would be having with the family?

WEEK THREE: It's the Queen's Speech today. I suppose I should be getting really excited, I think there must be something wrong with me. I really cannot gather any excitement for this business at all. Again, it's just going to be another day of pomp and ceremony and I just want to get on with work.

I did turn up for it - absolutely packed house. It's a little bit like the Germans with the towels, you have to go in very early and put cards on the seat so you can "bags" your seat for the day. Well I didn't get there, I was too busy to get there early enough so I was stood up. Again there was all the commotion as they traipsed through from the House of Commons. I just couldn't be bothered to follow them actually.

Then we had all the speeches and it was quite exciting but there is so much of it which is tongue in cheek, clever debating points, some witty speeches but I just don't really see what this has to do with running the country to be honest.

IAN LAVERY - Labour MP for Wansbeck

Ian Lavery MP

Before becoming an MP, Ian Lavery was president of the National Union of Mineworkers.

He supported the Miners' Strikes of 1984-85 and has lived in Ashington, Northumberland, which used to be one of the largest mining sites in Europe, for his entire life. He is 48 years old.


WEEK ONE: It's the end of my first day in Parliament and it couldn't have been any tastier.

We've got a change in government, Gordon Brown has resigned, there's a Liberal Democrat/Conservative pact and we have the first coalition government in generations. It really couldn't be any tastier than this in terms of politics… or could it be?

WEEK TWO: I was looking forward to my day in Parliament.

I'm terribly frustrated at the end of the day. I feel like an industrial gypsy
Ian Lavery

When I got there, no sign of any rooms or any office accommodation.

It's back to the good old hot-desking, lack of privacy, lack of confidentiality and total unprofessionalism in trying to meet the requirements of the constituents with the mail and everything that an MP has got to deal with when they're in the House of Commons.

I'm terribly frustrated at the end of the day. I feel like an industrial gypsy. I just hope things will get better soon and let's wait and see what tomorrow brings.

WEEK THREE: It's been quite a lively day today, the day of the Queen's Speech. For me it was a very, very extraordinary day, all from the way in which the Queen arrived to the House of Lords this morning, the pageantry, the cavalry, the horses. It was absolutely fantastic.

I'm not a great Royalist but to see this display was quite fascinating and I must say really, really enjoyable.

SARAH WOLLASTON - Conservative MP for Totnes

Dr Sarah Wollaston

Before becoming an MP, Sarah Wollaston worked for many years as a GP.

She won the UK's first open primary election, with all the voters in the constituency entitled to vote for a Conservative candidate. She courted controversy when she told the Guardian that she spent a lot of time with girls who had been raped "who wouldn't have been raped if they had not been drunk". She is 47 years old.


WEEK ONE: I just wanted to record the saddest thing I saw this week. I saw a Lib Dem former member standing, looking out across an empty members lobby at eight in the evening.

I thought sooner or later, all of us will be doing that. However much you put in the job, however much you want to stay, there's always going to be somebody snapping at your heels and one day you will have to leave.

WEEK TWO: I took the oath of allegiance yesterday so I do feel like I've arrived and that's lovely. You sit here and every so often off goes Big Ben and it's a lovely feeling. The whole place is stunningly beautiful.

I think the problem with the [expenses] system as it is currently set up is that it is phenomenally bureaucratic
Sarah Wollaston

I guess, like all the other new MPs I talked to, we all want to do a professional job. Everybody is here because they want to make a difference and everyone is in the same boat worrying that the thing that is going to stop them do that is desperately trying to sort out all the bureaucracy that gets in the way.

So what about the expenses system?

It's difficult to talk about MPs' expenses without running the risk that you're going to look like you're whinging so here's the bottom line:

I think the problem with the system as it is currently set up is that it is phenomenally bureaucratic. It is going to take an absolute army of administrators at Ipsa (Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority) to administer it.

WEEK THREE: I watched the Queen's Speech with my daughter from the House of Lords gallery and it was really a very special moment.

It's quite a strange experience being a new MP. You swing from really special moments like that backwards and forwards to times when it's going horribly wrong.

You can never quite decide whether you're an important person or really, right down there at the bottom of the food chain.

Of course, it's the case that both are true.

I do think you can make a difference as an MP but you do have to take a lot of knocks along the way. And so it's best not to take yourself too seriously.

CHI ONWURAH - Labour MP for Newcastle Central

Chi Onwura

Chi Onwurah worked for Ofcom before she became an MP.

She was born in the UK but moved to Nigeria as a small child until, two years later, civil war broke out and she returned to the UK. She is Newcastle's first ever black MP. She is 45 years old.


WEEK ONE: Today has to be the strangest day of my life.

I got the train down from Newcastle to London and there was a little bit of a new start of term atmosphere but also some foreboding - the tweets coming through about the progress with the LibLab pack or lack of it.

Received about 500 emails asking us to support a LibLab pact and arrived in London at about 6pm to find out it was no longer on the agenda.

All the Tories in the dining room banged and shouted... it felt like a public school canteen
Chi Onwurah

Then Brown had resigned whilst we were going through the formalities of becoming new MPs and that was very moving and touching and strange.

So then we decided to go to the members' dining room and we sat and had a drink while Cameron came out and it was announced he was prime minister.

All the Tories in the dining room banged and shouted, and yeah, it did feel like a public school canteen, not that I've ever been in a public school canteen. That's when I decided to leave.

WEEK TWO: I'm walking down to Swiss Cottage station, I haven't had breakfast yet because I don't want to be late and also I've been listening to the Today programme and hearing the depth of collaboration between Labour and the Lib Dems.

Everybody seems to be agreed that this can be a good thing for Labour and I can see that for myself but at the same time I'm thinking about what it means for Newcastle and all the people in Newcastle that a Tory lib Dem coalition are going to forget or are going to punish.

I need to figure, or I need to work with my colleagues to make sure that Newcastle doesn't suffer from this change of government.

The full Westminster Newbies programme can be heard on BBC Radio 4, Tuesday 1 June 2010, 1600 BST and afterwards on iPlayer.



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