Why become a parliamentary researcher? The work is (mostly) mundane; the pay is far below that of your average graduate scheme: and there is no career path whatsoever. Yet for every one job on offer, there will be at least 100 applications.
The answer, of course, is the pull of the Palace: if you’re young, ambitious, and keen to make it in politics, the Houses of Parliament feels like The Place to Be. Although other jobs may offer better pay, better hours and better prospects, few will allow you to walk in the footsteps of the people who built this country, and none will afford you a glimpse into the heart British democracy.
But picking a job based on the office space is never a good idea. And many parliamentary researchers, once the thrill of working in Westminster wears off, will find themselves bored and unsatisfied. Most bright, ambitious graduates see researcher jobs (which mostly involve replying to disgruntled constituents) as a stepping stone on the way to becoming a Special Advisor to a cabinet minister, yet with a limited number of Spad jobs on offer and over 650 MPs with at least two researchers each, it’s statistically unlikely that many of them will make it.
Frustration soon gives way to resentment, and before long – in a building running on cheap alcohol – resentment gives way to bitching.
During my 18 months in parliament, I must have heard a rumour about every single MP in the chamber. Some had the ring of truth about them, but others were so ridiculous it seemed likely that they were dreamt up on an booze binge in the Sports and Social bar by a researcher annoyed to have been passed over for a more glamorous job.
Unfortunately, provenance doesn’t much matter. Rumours, in the Westminster bubble, are a currency: if you are a researcher rich in “knowledge” about MPs, people assume that you are an important person to know, and in a building where appearances mean everything, that image is key.
Now that the government is so weak it seems to be a scandal away from collapsing, those rumours have more value than ever before. Bringing down a Government is the most powerful thing anyone could possibly do – and for some researchers, naturally ambitious but starved of power in their day jobs, it must be an alluring prospect.
The mysterious authors of the “sex pest” dossier – who are somehow managing to preserve their anonymity, for now – claim to have put it together because they believe that “the culture in Westminster needs to change”. But if that were the case, I can’t help thinking they would have been a bit more careful about getting the facts straight. Even if a number of the claims turn out to be true, the integrity of the document is massively undermined by the inclusion of accusations which will almost definitely turn out to be libellous.
MPs Dominic Raab and Rory Stewart have already issued robust and clear denials of the allegations against them, and the former has gone as far as to say that the list amounts to intimidation and harassment of MPs. He will not be the last.
For the authors of this dossier, changing the culture of Westminster was a justification, not a reason, to go public. Were they also partly motivated by the sheer thrill of creating mayhem? If so, they have succeeded.