MPs reckon that their staff are in the possession of superpowers. No, not like that; no elected representative ever reads a CV and thinks, “my word! This chap understands the progressivisation agenda in the public services and spends his evening discussing post-structuralism – get him employed post-haste!” Such is the naïvete of many that they believe bag-carrying to involve these skills.

Unfortunately the truth is nothing so glamorous. The kind of powers your Member expects you to have relate to being able to unblock the photocopier after they’ve jammed it, an ability to recall accurately every appointment for the next three months after they delete their online diary it in an ill-advised attempt to “find out how these computer jobbies work,” to always be in possession of the relevant piece of paper regardless of the time of night, to have a Doris Stokes talent for mind-reading, and a penchant for predicting the future. All this whilst – of course – maintaining a cheery, attractive countenance and bringing them tea hourly and crumpets at 4pm sharp.

Naturally, even the most assiduous staffer will bugger it up (as the Parliamentary phrase goes) from time to time. Whether it’s accidentally cracking off a picture of the boss in his swimmers to the editor of the local press instead of his missus as she requested, allowing a piece of casework to slip through the cracks, or simply unfairly copping the blame for something that’s not your fault (to most MPs “denial” is, in fact, only a river in Egypt), at some stage you will find yourself in the eye of an almighty storm.

And this is how you deal with it.

DON’T panic

There’s nothing to be gained from legging it around the place wildly, like the proverbial headless chicken/MP attempting to get a nearby camera crew to notice them. Take five, breathe deeply, and attempt to order your thoughts. Remember: in the long, illustrious history of bag-carrying every mistake that could possibly be committed will have been made before, and only a small number of our brethren have ended up chained to the walls in the Commons dungeons with the bread and water placed just out of reach.

DO take practical steps, and ALWAYS apologise

If you’ve accidentally sent an email to someone you shouldn’t have, you can attempt to recall it using Microsoft Outlook. If there’s a piece of casework that you haven’t dealt with that’s come back to bite you in the arse, often a simple apology will do the trick. When apologising/grovelling, always keep in mind that anyone witnessing your butt-kissing should have no doubt as to the answer of the question: “have you no pride?”

DON’T blame your colleagues

There’s always a temptation, when faced with the steely glare of the boss, to try and unload the mistake onto one of your fellow office workers. Whilst this might work in the short term, this strategy is to be avoided even if the clanger isn’t entirely your fault. Not only will you cause the temperature to drop in your workplace to sub-Arctic levels, but you can also bet your life that come the next crisis the blame will be comprehensively and devastatingly nailed to your door. Possibly next to a message along the lines of, “BACK ATCHA, YOU TREACHEROUS MOFO.”

DO indulge in some soft-soap

Alexander Dumas was a man of great wisdom who understood that everyone has their price. With MPs this can be as little as a piping hot coffee from the posh café in Portcullis House and a Twix, so be prepared to spend a couple of quid to soften the blow before you ‘fess up that you’ve just lost your temper and invited the leader of the local council to do something anatomically impossible.

DON’T go into hiding

Trying to run away and hope that everything will be okay is a strategy that has never worked – a bitter lesson learnt from Trench exes passim. Apart from anything else, it is a well known fact that, upon election, MPs are fitted with a special chip that allows them to negotiate the Hogwarts-like dimensions of the House of Commons with an ease denied to us lesser mortals. They will ALWAYS find you, and lo! their rage will be great.

DO create a welcome diversion

“Look over there, boss! I’ve found a bunch of reporters who want to give you the headline slot on Channel Four news on your work as chair of the All Party Group on Molluscs and Fungi.” Works every time.

Dean Trench

Added on 29th May 2008