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Politics from the inside - my work experience with Meg.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Alex Pickard, a pupil at Meadowhead Secondary School, recently undertook a two weeks work experience with Meg at her offices in Sheffield and London. The following is his account of how he found ‘politics from the inside’.


I had the fantastic opportunity of spending my work experience with my local Member of Parliament, Meg Munn, MP for Sheffield Heeley. I spent the first week of my two weeks’ work experience in Sheffield, mainly in Meg’s constituency office with her assistant, the ever-busy Deborah Stenton. I was surprised by the immense amount of work that a constituency office has to handle, ranging from dealing with the re-housing of constituents to sending letters to others MP’s in Parliament! I also learnt that work in an MP’s office usually begins with two words: letter stuffing.


During my week in the constituency office I sorted all the many press releases involving Meg from last year onwards; opened and sorted the post on a daily basis (about 50 letters a day!); and also printed and sent Meg’s letters to all up and coming 18-year-olds in her constituency. Although these tasks may sound dull, they were very interesting and something new to me. They also introduced me to what an MP really does outside of Parliament.


The highlight of week one was the Friday, when I first met Meg. I then had to shadow her for the day. We both went to the Carers’ coffee morning but unfortunately had to leave early, because of our tight schedule. Our next invitation was to Sheffield Town Hall, for the Lord Mayors’ Investiture Ceremony. This is when the Lord Mayor of Sheffield is changed after the retiring Mayor has served their year in the position. As an ‘honourable guest’ I watched the ceremony take place and listened to all the speeches. This was followed by a buffet which was also very pleasant! We finished the day with a visit to All Saints’ School. It was a novel experience to see a school from an outside perspective, and not be treated as a pupil. As week one ended I was sad to be leaving the office and Deborah, but also looking-forward to my week in London, in Parliament.


I met Meg on the first day outside St. Stephen’s entrance in Westminster Palace. I was then introduced to Meg’s London office which is in the Norman Shaw North building, part of the Parliamentary complex. The London office contains much the same as the Sheffield office, as well as a House of Commons green sofa. At the end of the day, I accompanied Meg to the House of Commons tug-of-war team practice. Every year the House of Commons fields a men’s and women’s tug-of-war team to compete against the House of Lords teams at a charity event. The experience of seeing a team of MP’s and their researchers straining to pull a tree over was a new and amusing one. My task was to take photographs of this. After about one hour of hard puffing and pulling my first day ended and I left Meg and the rest of the exhausted MP’s.





On Tuesday, I met Meg at Portcullis House, the new Parliament building. I began with the usual office jobs, such as opening letters. In the afternoon, I went to watch a DEFRA Select Committee. The committee was about food-labelling, which, although it doesn’t sound interesting, was actually very enlightening, as it was relevant to me and my daily-life. In the evening, I went to watch Meg and the rest of the House of Commons team in the Parliamentary tug-of-war. The event was fantastic, especially as both the House of Commons men’s and women’s teams won! I also managed to take some photos of the event for Meg.


Day 3 of my London experience began with a tour of Parliament with Meg. This was extremely interesting and great to see all round both Houses, from the Queen’s Robing Room, to the Commons Chamber. This was followed by possibly the highlight of my two weeks- Prime Minister’s Questions. The first half lasted for half an hour and is when the questions are directed to the Deputy Prime Minister, and the members of the Cabinet. The second half is when the Prime Minister arrives, and from then on the questions are directed at him. It was fantastic to watch and really strange to see it in real life, rather than on television. It was also overwhelming after I had been trying to spot any MP’s all week and then suddenly they were all there! The debate was based around the NHS and how it should be run in future. It was also very bizarre to see the debate on television later on, when you can remember what the MPs said and where people were sitting.


After this, I was handed over to the office of Gillian Merron MP, to be indulged in more letter stuffing. It was only after about the two-hundredth envelope that her researchers told me that the envelopes were actually self-sealing, and you didn’t need to lick them! To end the day I attended a Defence Select Committee on the topic of Iraq. Although I imagined this would be very exciting, the food-labelling committee was actually more enjoyable!


As Meg would be in Sheffield on the Friday, Thursday was my final day. I began work in the morning in the office of Margaret Hodge MP. Every time I visited a different MP’s office it was interesting to see how their methods of working differed slightly from Meg’s. After that, I met Meg and I spent the rest of the afternoon in her office doing the daily jobs. To end my work experience, we had tea on the terrace by the Thames. This was the perfect ending to a truly great experience and an incredible time for me.


My work experience was a chance for me to gain an insight into government at all levels, from local to national. I was surprised at the immense amount of work done, not only by MPs, but by everyone involved. I would like to thank both Meg and Deborah for all the hard work that they put into providing me with the opportunity to do all the exciting things that I did. I would not rule out a future career in politics. The Rt. Hon. Alex Pickard MP? Who knows?


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