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Five things...to avoid as a new MP

By Andy McSmith.

Andy McSmith has worked in the House of Commons as a political correspondent for the Daily Mirror, Observer, Daily Telegraph, Independent on Sunday and the Independent. He has written about and met every serving Prime Minister from Margaret Thatcher onwards, and has published several books, including political biographies, and a history of Britain in the 1980s, No Such Thing as Society.

There are not many professions as full of hazards as politics. There is no trial period for MPs either, when you are allowed to make mistakes without public censure. The possibilities for a wrecking a political career on day one are endless. You might think that this list of things to avoid is so obvious as to be hardly worth repeating - but each is drawn from actual examples of how new MPs have contrived to wreck their careers almost before they have begun...

  • Tip 1 - Don't fiddle the figures, or allow your agent to, when you submit your election expenses. It is a criminal offence, that has landed several new MPs in court. Even an acquittal is bad publicity.

  • Tip 2 - When submitting genuine expenses, avoid claiming for trivial items like toilet paper. It will all be on the record, and the money you save will not be worth the publicity.

  • Tip 3 - Don't boast about the brilliant future you think is yours. One new MP interviewed on his way to take his seat forecast that he would be Prime Minister within 15 years. After 12, he had had his words thrown back at so often and so obviously was never going to be prime minister that he gave up his seat.

  • Tip 4 - If you find yourself socialising with people who are behaving badly, don't stick around, even if they are your friends. Not long ago, a young MP with hopes of promotion threw everything away by being at a stag party where young men were dressed in Nazi uniforms.

  • Tip 5 - It should really go without saying, but don't talk about your sex life.  A brand new MP acquired a nickname that has lasted his entire career when talking to journalist about his visit to Greece, by telling him far more than he should have.

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