Nick De Bois spent five years as the Conservative Member of Parliament for Enfield North. He was elected in 2010 as part of David Cameron’s crawl into No 10, and defeated in 2015 as Cameron won a majority that surprised himself, confounded the polls, but left De Bois behind. His 2010 election had marked his third attempt to become an MP – he had certainly earned his place in Parliament by the time he won it.
Books by MPs – serving or former – rarely fulfil their promise and potential. Chris Mullin’s writing would be one that always exceeded expectations. Matthew Parris is another. Generally however they tend to be a bit heavy going. Confessions of a Recovering MP is excellent: mixing humour, reminiscence, modesty, insight and good story telling. It is well written and adopts a pacey and fluent style.
De Bois discusses and illuminates what an MP does. It is fashionable to say being an MP is a full time job. But being an MP is not a job. It is not 9-5 Monday to Friday. It is a round the clock commitment, an all-consuming passion and vocation. This book reminds the reader that to run for election and to become an MP is to agree to an open ended commitment to the voters, without practical condition or limit. If you sign up for public office you are all in – and, for De Bois at least, that is great.
He considers in turn who and what an MP is and does. He looks at the different roles he experienced, as well as the events that happened to him. De Bois is very funny when he examines his own reaction to the experience of being an MP – ‘Media tart or media manager’ is the title of one chapter and he disarmingly admits to discovering he ‘loved doing the media’. Being Secretary of the 1922 Backbench Committee of Conservative MPs provides another raft of experiences.
Underlying this amusing and sometimes moving account of life at Westminster is a serious reflection on what it is like to be elected to the House of Commons. It is an experience lived fully and completely in the public glare. To reach Westminster you have to compete vigorously and remorselessly to be selected to be your party’s candidate, once chosen you have to fight relentlessly to be elected. Election is then just the start of an endless battle to keep your seat and to try and build a career where everyone is trying to win attention and scramble as far up the ladder as they can before, inevitably, falling off.
Nick De Bois has produced a great account of his time at Westminster. And what a five years to have a ringside seat in the national forum – Brexit, austerity, coalition, and all the rest of it. This is a fun and compelling read – and the candidate’s departments of all political parties should issue a copy to everyone who says they would like to be an MP.
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‘Confessions of a Recovering MP’ is available from Biteback for £12.99