There is a strange , though understandable, perception in politics that if you are good in one job, you are bound to be good at another. Councillors often believe they will automatically make good MPs, MPs think they would be good Agents, Parliamentary researchers think they will be great speech-writers ... and agents know that they would be good at everything!
In reality this is often not the case. Very few “old-school” agents have ever made the transition to parliament as, working as closely as we do with MPs, we recognise the required skills are very different. I could think of nothing worse, for me, than being an MP. I have little empathy, less patience, limited diplomacy and few oratorical skills.
One of the hardest things that I face is when a councillor or activist seeks my support for a change of role. I immediately know whether or not I believe they would be good for that position. If I think they are then it is easy to proceed – if not, I face a dilemma. I have to decide one of the following
- To decline my support and risk causing offense or, at worst, losing a friendship
- Agree to give a reference, then use ambiguous terms to let the interview panel know how I really feel
- Not tell the truth on the reference
Given the second and third options are out of the question, I invariably end up tying myself in knots trying to explain why I cannot offer my support. Occasionally fear of the reaction leads me to ignoring the issue in the hope it will go away. People understandably take this badly, though fortunately (in most cases) they accept the outcome and friendships are rarely damaged in the longer-term.
There are other times (and this must have happened to all of us in the Conservative Party, from the election of a Branch Chairman, to the selection of a Parliamentary Candidate) when you are torn between loyalty to a friend, and loyalty to other candidate(s) who you genuinely believe would be better at the job.
In the end politics is about making things better – not personal ambitions or loyalties.
Recently a very close friend (not at all politically active) told me excitedly about a possible new job. He is hugely successful in his business, but this new position (as a director of a major local company) not only offered more money but greater job security and fewer hours. He asked for my help with his application form, but having slept on my decision, I genuinely didn’t think the job was right for him. His skills are people-focussed, where the new role would be balance sheets and financial. As a friend, should I have encouraged and supported him to take a job I truly believed he would not enjoy and thrive in, or did I have a moral duty to tell him the truth? I did the latter. I know my decision caused hurt, but I believe it was right - and thankfully, our friendship survived.
Unfortunately, in politics, sometimes they don’t.