Before we rose for the Easter recess, I spoke and voted against an increase in our allowances. The Leader of the House had proposed that each MP should spend up to £10,000 of your money on a Communications Allowance. My view was that, if there was an extra £6.5m available for public spending, there were more worthwhile causes than the publication and distribution of glossy magazines, extolling the dynamism and industry of the nation’s MP. (My apologies to Andover’s many fine printing companies, who may have been looking forward to the business)
However, my oratory was insufficient for the task and the motion was carried.
Of course MP’s should communicate with their constituents and, thanks to the local papers, I am able to do so regularly. No Editor has yet asked for £10,000 in rent for occupying their columns. In addition to their local newspaper and radio, MP’s can use websites and email, which cost virtually nothing.
Having voted against more resources for communication, revenge was swift. I immediately ran into heavy weather on the IT front.
The House of Commons has a temperamental computer system. It insulates us, on the whole, from unwanted mail from the outside world, but leaves us free to send unwanted mail to each other. And we do; invitations drop into my inbox from countless All Party Parliamentary Groups, coupled with exhortations to add my name to the thousands of Early Day Motions on the Order Paper.
Last weekend, the system had a nervous breakdown. On trying to retrieve messages, I was told
“Either there are network problems or the Microsoft Exchange Server computer is down for maintenance.” As at the time of writing, every email sent to MP’s between lunchtime on Saturday and teatime on Sunday was bounced back into the ether.
Yes, it was a quiet weekend. But it was the silence of the doodlebug that goes quiet before it hits the ground and explodes. We all know that, up there somewhere, there are now thousands of emails buzzing round, waiting to land.
This challenge, as we call a problem in the trade, was compounded by a second one. When we bought our home in the constituency, there was a room near the kitchen which our predecessors used as a dining room. When it comes to entertaining, the Youngs belong to the Minimalist School. We are out much of the time and when at home, either alone or with others, we eat in the kitchen. The dining room became a study, accommodating the technical equipment that talks to the mothership in the House of Commons, when it is open for business.
It sounded a well-meant and harmless request from my wife “I’ve ordered a new carpet for your study; could you unplug the computer and put it somewhere else so it can be laid.”
To one person, it may be a computer; to another it is a complex life-support system. I counted twenty pieces of equipment plugged into the power supply, linked by no less than 38 connections. (There may only have been 19 cables, but each cable had two ends which could end up in the wrong place.) If you took the dashboard off a jumbo jet, what you would see is what was on the floor. A quadruple heart bypass operation was a doddle compared with dismantling, moving and then re-assembling this collection of PC World’s finest. Only the paper shredder seemed to be totally independent.
The challenge was responded to; the system was dismantled and re-assembled. Then the House of Commons mothership went on the blink.
A thought occurs to me; could the collapse of the entire Parliamentary IT system be due to a cable in the wrong place in Penton Mewsey?