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Eve of Polling Day: "Waiting for the Call" - Jonathan Shaw

Eve of Polling Day: "Waiting for the Call" - Jonathan Shaw

7th June 2017

On the eve of the general election Jonathan Shaw, our CEO and a former MP and Government Minister, looks back on the fortunes of the reshuffle, losing, and what today's prospective MPs might be looking forward to.

Rumour and gossip are part and parcel of most organisations, and of course Parliament has a full and spectacular chronicle in this department. Now is certainly a reminder of my own experiences some years ago on four election eves.

After an election, or just prior to a re-shuffle (such as today), the House of Commons' rumour mill goes into overdrive, particularly amongst MPs from the governing party, as they speculate who will or will not receive “the call” from the Prime Minister inviting them to join the Government. Getting a call very early on in a reshuffle generally means you are going to be sacked. The brutal nature of politics means there is always a great fascination for those who receive the chop until attention swiftly switches to their successor - which is of course fairly immediate!

The first time I received “the call” I was conducting my Friday evening advice surgery. A long line of constituents waiting to see me were interrupted by the number 10 switch board announcing the Prime Minster was on the line. My then-constituents were very accommodating and rather enjoyed being part of the moment. Tony Blair invited me to join the Government as a whip; knowing that A) he had a reputation of not liking reshuffles; B) it was reasonable to assume that the appointment of junior whip would be at the back of his of call list or rather at the very back; and C) it was 9.00pm on Friday, I didn’t ask him about the detail of the job and how he thought as a junior whip I could really make a difference to his Government. I just said yes.

I knew the drill of a whip and Tony well enough to know he wouldn’t wish to know much about the job. It was a short and sweet conversation but one that I’ll never forget. He was actually very nice and asked me a few questions about the family and how things were in Chatham.

I survived and received ”the call” on a couple of other occasions including a particularly memorable one when Gordon Brown told this former social worker that he thought I would make an excellent Fisheries Minster! I said I would be honoured. It is for others to judge how I performed in that role for 18 months before I was reshuffled to DWP, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and left with a greater understanding and respect for those who brave the seas to feed us and the environmental campaigners who make the case for sustainability.

Being a Minister is a very different life from that on the backbenches. You turn from being a lobbyist to being the lobbied. There are the endless red boxes, the hours are very long and you are required to make lots of decisions each and every day, for a job you have never had any training for. Just as you get to get grips with all the details the chances are you will be moved or sacked. However, I concur with the common view from those who have been fortunate enough to serve in Government, that it is the great privilege and one that I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

When I had my day of reckoning with electorate in 2010 I was in a rather odd situation in that for 9 days I was still one of Her Majesty’s Ministers despite losing my seat. This was because it took 9 days for the Conservative / Lib Dem coalition to be formed and therefore the machinery of Government (still Labour) continued.

And so, with this spirit very much in mind, one of the officials at DWP emailed me to ask if I would like to receive the updated unemployment figures. Having just added to the ranks I politely declined!

People often ask if I would like to go back to being an MP in Parliament. It’s a definite no. I will always miss parts of the job, but life moves on and I had a good run of 13 years as an MP including 5 in the government. After Parliament, I set up a company, took on people and by most measures did really well, though I sometimes wish I had had the experience before I became an MP. Now at Policy Connect I love working with a great team of colleagues contributing to important areas of the policy debate and, I have to say, not missing the prospect of “the call.”