Rarely has so much been made of so little.
A shoal of newspapers stories, broadcast interviews including one at the peak spot on the Today programme, and a plug by the Speaker in the House of Commons. He said my book 'How to be an MP' was a well-thumbed tome in the Bercow household. He was answering a friendly Point of Order from Tory MP Claire Perry.
Authors love publicity because it usually translates into more readers. Money is not a consideration because all profits from my books go to charities. But giving my all to writing a book, I yearn for new readers.
The publicity in February 2013 was tenfold the attention the book had when it was first published in February 2012. For the oddest reason. For reasons known only to themselves the Daily Telegraph put in a Freedom of Information request for details of all books borrowed by MPs from the Commons Library.
Who cares? As all their stories about MPs are negative ones, they may have been hoping for the revelation of some murky secrets. Would it be ‘Fifty shades of grey' or 'How to fiddle your income tax' or 'Fooling the people all of the time'? NO. To gasps of astonishment from everyone, including me, the most borrowed book is my advice on how to be an MP.
Some commentators fairly suggested that MPs should discover this vital information before not after they ascended to the green leather. Perhaps the title for sitting members should be 'How to be a Better MP’. The book’s target audience is young people whose opines have been poisoned against politics by the dreadful screaming nightmare of the expenses scandal.
Yes, it was our fault. We tolerated a system of expenses that invited abuse. Many MPs have been judged guilty and punished. The impression of sleaze is now deep seated and will take a decade to remove.
In 1997 I commended these ten commandments to MPs:
- Value the role of a backbencher as a high calling
- Serve constituents, the weak and the neglected
- Seek novel remedies and challenge accepted wisdom
- Attack opponents only when they are wron
- Never covet a second income, honours or a retirement job
- Value courage and innovation above popularity
- Honour the party and extend its horizons
- Use humour and colour to convey serious ideas
- Fortify the independence of backbenchers against the Executive
- Neglect the rich, the obsessed and the tabloids and seek out the silent voices.
In the new book I have added an additional 20:
• Understate promises, never exaggerate successes.
• Reply within forty-eight hours to all messages.
• Be transparent and puritanical with allowances and expenses.
• Avoid serving commercial or partial interests.
• Generously give time and enthusiasm to local causes.
• Never accept personal favours or advantages.
• Always pay for substantial meals.
• Put all excess income above salary in a charity trust fund.
• Never lie, tell half-truths or mislead.
• Keep constituents informed on key issues.
• Deflect criticism with truth and humour.
• Admit failures.
• Oppose commitments to war made without MPs’ consent.
• Redirect complaints that are beyond responsibility or competence.
• Match behaviour to ethical self-image.
• Refresh and re-invigorate ideals.
• Resist immediate political gratification; seek permanent reforms.
• Advance the shift of power from the Executive to the Legislature.
• Strive to give unambiguous answers to questions.
• Choose simplicity and utility over luxury and extravagance.
The private prayer said every day in the Commons is a worthy ambition:
May they never lead the nation wrongly through love of power, desire to please, or unworthy ideals, but laying aside all private interests and prejudices keep in mind their responsibility to seek to improve the condition of all mankind.