Readers will have their own diaries, either electronic or paper-based, which fill up with their forthcoming engagements. Some of these are eagerly looked forward to; others induce mild depression.
Like most MP’s, I have a Blackberry. For the older reader, this is a mobile telephone, electronic diary and address book – (it may also have other capabilities but I have lost the manual). The Whips encouraged us a few years ago to carry these wherever we went. Their pretext was that this would enable them to tell us good news promptly – such as “The debate has collapsed and you can go home.” So we all got one. In practice, it has enabled the Whips to send us less welcome news. “The seven o’clock vote will now be at ten o’clock’”
On this Blackberry are held all my future engagements. As I scrolled through them, depression overtook eager anticipation and I wished I had a clear diary, with free time to do whatever I wanted.
My wish was granted. It was a disaster. Let me explain.
While the Blackberry holds all my engagements, what it has is a copy of a master diary held on a computer. Members of my staff compete with each other to fill every waking moment with engagements, anxious to keep me busy. From time to time, the Blackberry needs to be updated so I know where they are sending me and when (and sometimes why). An umbilical cord is attached to the mother ship from the Blackberry, and a swift digital conversation takes place between the two. I am then correctly programmed.
This system has worked well for a number of years and if I have missed an appointment, it has been my fault and not the Blackberry’s.
But there is a weak link in the chain. The Parliamentary computer system needs regular servicing, during which time digital dialogue is impossible. Of itself, this is manageable, but during a recent discontinuity in service, the Blackberry replicated with a virtual calendar which had nothing in it. It thought it was talking to its mother, but it was talking to someone else’s mother, who led a totally inactive life. The contents of my Blackberry were wiped out. Again, this need not have mattered; but when the Parliamentary system came back on line and mother once again could talk to daughter, daughter told the mother that she, the daughter, had the latest information “OK darling” said the mother ship “I’ll take the recent changes from you.” And so my wish came true. The master copy was rubbed out by the empty-headed Blackberry and I was a free man. Not only did I have a clear diary, but I had also apparently been inactive since 2003, as all historical information had been deleted.
Euphoria was followed by panic. Some, but not all, my engagements are on my website. (These are the ones I was looking forward to) The website was uninfected by this contagious disease. Other engagements were in a paper-based system containing letters; a few invitations were on a mantelpiece. But a huge chunk of my future had disappeared into the ether. This might be the last column, as the reminders to pen 400 words every other Sunday had been deleted.
This story has a happy ending – for those constituents who were looking forward to seeing their MP at a future event. In the bowels of Westminster, there is a backup – a digital long stop when the ball has beaten the batsman and the wicket-keeper. My future is back in the diary. See you around.