Political Advice from A.P.H.

This is a selection of advice from A. P. Herbert’s book, Independent Member (Methuen, 1950), which is a biographical book about his time as an Independent Member of Parliament for Oxford University from 1935 to 1950, and also his service in the Second World War. The selection is not only advice about how to be an MP, but also includes more general points.

This article is subject to be altered if I find any more good stuff in his book.

“At least, I thought, it was a good intellectual exercise for a spasmodic journalist to be compelled to display all his political beliefs in one basket. It is: and I commend it as an exercise to every citizen.” p. 23

“When I went in there was a laughable legend that the author-M.P. could sit in the Library and write, emerging now and then when the Division Bell rang.” p. 31

“I must begin with an Awful Warning: Do not be in too great a hurry to make your Maiden Speech. The traditions, and the tricks, of the House of Commons are not learned in a day. You should sit quiet for a time, and study carefully how things are said and done.” p. 33

“Not every private Member was painfully pregnant with Bills, like myself. Many were embarrassed and alarmed when they drew a high place in the ballot, and went round muttering ‘What on earth am I to legislate about?’ These victims of good fortune would be set upon by eager persons like me and invited to adopt our Bills. If they did not like our Bills, or shrank from such responsibility, or were warned off by their own Whips (as they sometimes were), the Whips as a rule had some small non-contentious measure — concerning taxi-cabs or ice-cream vendors — up their sleeves.” pp. 59–60

“On private Fridays the young man learns much about ‘procedure’ and practical points of conduct. He begins to think better of Whips and others in authority. For he has to do himself so many bits of drill which he has always seen done by the Whips before — and they seemed so easy then.” p. 62

“And on those days we, the ‘unofficial’ Members, could create — or try to create. Otherwise we can only criticize and comment. We can move amendments to Government Bills (which will not always be called). We can attack Ministers’ policies in general debate: we can criticize their administrative errors in brief debates of half an hour ‘on the adjournment’.” p. 63

“I should have kept a proper diary. (How I envy and admire that great fellow Harold Nicholson, who keeps a proper diary all the time! And how much I should like to read it!)” p. 293

“I now had what most people would call a ‘wild idea’ — but do not, Young Man, be too much afraid of ‘wild ideas’.” p. 423

“Even here, you may have a vote, you may have a Member, you may have a Trade Union, you may have your chosen Party in power: yet there may be many things that you think should be said, and no one is saying. But you, not a Member of Parliament, not even a Lord, can ‘write to the papers’ and say them.” p. 461

“Sick though I was of speeches, I thought, now and then, towards the end of 1949, about my Parliamentary swan-song. The Dissolution might come in February, or March, or even June 1950: but, in any event, there would be a chance — probably on an ‘Adjournment’ motion — for a final fling.” p. 482

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