Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Written Evidence

49. Memorandum to Dr Vanessa Gearson from Mrs Christine Watson, 24 October 2002

Re: Responsibilities undertaken during my employment to date, both in my role as 'Constituency Secretary' to IDS and as 'Private Secretary' to IDS in his capacity as Leader of the Opposition

Further to our discussion this morning. I list below bullet points relating to the work I have undertaken to date, some of which I believe should have been the responsibilities of AE. This is a difficult task for me, especially as I reflect back on all the hard work I have put in over the last year and especially when AE was quite happy for someone else to do her work for her, i.e. me. As you know, I was solely running Iain's very busy constituency office without assistance but also making sure the Leader's office was in order, being a point of contact for the 'Office Keepers' at the House etc.

As you know, I just got on with the job/tasks in hand as I have a responsible attitude to my job, to Iain's position both as Member of Parliament for Chingford and Woodford Green and as Leader of the Opposition, to the Conservative Party and to the end goal of achieving a Conservative Government at the next General Election.

Having said all that and also the events of the administration last year, I firmly believe that you are a 'breath of fresh air' and it is a relief to have you heading our new administration. I am sure that I can speak for all of us when I say that, and I certainly want you to succeed in your new post and you know that you have all my support to have the Leader's office running smoothly and efficiently from now on.

October 01-October 02
Position held: Constituency Secretary to the Leader

·  Started with backlog of constituency correspondence of at least 6-8 weeks due to the Leadership campaign—no extra help given

·  Un-packed all Iain's office contents and divided it all up into categories, constituency, Defence and European matters etc. etc.

·  Re-structured Iain's constituency papers, new filing system and undid the 'chaos' whilst still keeping up with the correspondence

·  Liaised with the local Chingford office, organised the Surgery appointments together with planning his constituency itineraries.

·  Prepared briefing notes for Iain and making sure his Agent had a duplicate set the day before so that he was well briefed.

·  Dealt with numerous day-to-day telephone calls from constituents, the Leader's office calls together with members of the public.

·  Organised constituent's visits to the House of Commons—meeting them and making sure they were given tickets etc.

·  Organised schools from the constituency to visit, booking a theatre room at Millbank for Iain to address them with a 'question and answer' session. Thereafter looking after them on his behalf, making sure they had tea/coffee and that the students had somewhere to eat their packed lunches.

·  Liaised with Mark Fullbrook and assisted him with the 'newspaper' for the constituency. Having set up an efficient structure, I was therefore able to find specific cases to highlight etc.

·  As there had been no 'Press Cutting' books set up. I immediately put this into action, and every week-end would take the newspapers home to keep a record, hence we now have an up-to-date record of what the constituency Press covered on IDS for 2001 to the current time.

·  Carried out numerous tasks for AE and AWC—opening the Leader's office when necessary to access papers, signed bottles, look for miscellaneous things etc.

·  Organised to receive the constituency mail from CCO as there as a reluctance to deliver it to me personally from AE, AWC and JH for no apparent reasons other than laziness (in my mind). As I had a good relationship with the Correspondence Unit at CCO, they assisted me towards the end and we had a daily system.

·  I was kept out of the Diary to see IDS—for a long time I managed to do my job through sending notes with the constituency mail. On the odd date when I was given a diary time, I would go down to the Leader's office—no problem if Iain was on urgent parliamentary changes to the diary. I would then go back to my office to continue working. I do know that at times he was told I had gone home when in truth I was upstairs working!

·  I eventually decided to see Iain and reported to him I was not having diary time, and told him that when I asked to see him, I had to justify why. My opinion: I would not have worried or wasted his time requesting diary time if it was not important! He immediately called in AE and told her that in future, when I asked to see Iain on constituency matters, I was to be given an appropriate appointment. I have since approached AWC before he left the Leader's office about this and was told that I had not made enough fuss about my diary time. This comment made me feel angry and disappointed with the type of attitude that I had been experiencing all last year, and which I endured quietly, not wanting to bother Iain but on reflection towards the end, I felt I could no longer endure this behaviour and decided to voice my concerns as there had and there were too many problems that had gone un-reported.

·  I looked after the many Interns, especially when they assisted setting up the Shadow Cabinet Room on Wednesdays. They needed guidance and I made sure they received it.

·  Towards the Summer Recess, it became clear and apparent that there was no political filing system in operation. I was concerned, and told Iain. He in turn asked me to liaise with AE and set one up. I immediately gave him a plan and worked for many weeks setting one up, with the help of the Intern at the time.

·  Obviously, I had to approach AE and discovered that no filing had been done all year (nor had AWC until one of the Interns did it for him on my advice). I immediately took hold of the situation, organised that we would come in at the week-end, and in effect telling her that she had to otherwise I could not file the papers. I also wanted her input as I decided to archive all Iain's papers since he was an MP as they were in no order. There was an enormous amount of work to do. I ALSO HAD TO CONTINUE WITH MY WORK FOR THE CONSTITUENCY.

·  At the last minute, AE informed me she was too tired to come in on the Saturday. I explained that I had gone to a lot of trouble to organise this operation and that I would be letting other people down on the Monday. (I had organised the office keeper to remove the boxes up to where I now have Iain's papers—2 huge cupboards in the Opposition wing, one used by John Prescott while in opposition!). I felt upset and let down but told her that I was going to come in and my feeling was I would have to do it all by myself.

·  On the Saturday, AE rang me to apologise and that if I went to meet her to carry all the filing to G1, she had changed her mind. Without any fuss, I agreed and was shocked to find numerous carrier bags of filing brought in her car. I managed to secure a Post Office trolley and we brought it all to the office. I made her go through it all and I let her go later in the day, while I labelled all the boxes for archive.

·  The political filing was done on another Saturday, I asked her to go through all the papers, categorising as she went along. I was busy setting up the cabinets in readiness for the political structure to be in place. I also cleared the Leader's office of mess, as there was clearly no order.

·  As an onlooker—there were clearly a lot of problems in the administration last year. I did what I could in my capacity as being a very small part of the Leader's office as Iain's constituency secretary and being based full-time in the House of Commons. The attitude of various people was not correct, if their roles were defined—the individuals were certainly not carrying them out efficiently. Staff relations were low. On many occasions I stepped in to encourage people in their roles, and advising them to be professional at all times and encouraging them.

·  A matter that concerns me is the 'cheques given to AE' by the Shadow Cabinet for the Her Majesty the Queen's Golden Jubilee present. When these cheques started to come in, AE asked me to keep them and keep an up-dated list and to count them as we received them. I was aware that they should have been paid in to an account and kept reminding her of this but she was happy to have them kept in my drawer in my office at the House under lock and key. I was to understand that she gave her mother, Lady Eyre the task of finding a suitable gift, and to date I have been reminding her of this and the fact that the cheques are still not paid in and the Shadow Cabinet should be courteously informed of what the gift might be, at this later stage bearing in mind that they have each donated £50.00. Due to my concern, I made AWC put them in the Safe at CCO and that is where they remain to this day—3 months down the line!

·  Throughout my first year, and all the work I undertook, it was impossible for me to have a break as I felt that on my return, working on my own, my workload would have further increased. I worked without a holiday but felt justified in having 2 weeks off in August this year. Before leaving, Iain asked me to think about becoming his Private Secretary.

Private Secretary Position
August 2002-to present day

·  I was e-mailed by AE while on holiday, to tell me that I would be starting in my new position as soon as I returned.

·  I returned on Thursday, 22nd August and reported to CCO.

·  I explained to AE that Iain had not spoken to me regarding my new position and had not discussed my salary and coming off the Parliamentary payroll in my capacity as working for Iain as Leader of the Opposition. I felt that she had re-negotiated her own position and was not forthcoming about assisting me. I am therefore still being paid out of the constituency allowance through Parliament and I am still on the same salary as when I started on the 15th October 2001.

·  AE handed me a bunch of keys and told me to get on with my new role and to 'juggle' both jobs (constituency & new position). I was told to get Rebecca Layton and Jonathan Hellewell to help me, and she left to go on holiday.

·  I was left with no handing over instructions, notes, guidance—by this time, I was used to her behaviour, manner, dis-organisation, dis-regard for me 'picking up her workload and responsibilities'!

·  I got on with the job in hand, packed up Iain's office, kitchen and my new office. Arranged for boxes, labelled everything, came in over the week-end to do the move with the help of an intern from Bernard Jenkin's office. This is how my new role commenced …………….

·  I set up the new offices, un-packed all the boxes, arranged and put Iain's office in order ready for his return after his Summer break.

·  AWC was helpful at this stage. It was difficult for him not to be as he could see that I had been left with no guidance from AE. I then realized he had been assisting AE during the past year in her role as Private Secretary as well as the Diary.

·  I organised the packing up of the temporary office at Conference and packed my car with all the boxes, and did the reverse at the end of Conference. Whilst at Conference, I was told by both AE and AWC that it was my job to write all the letters re: the Tour after Conference and the visits at Conference, even though I had nothing to do with their planning or being in attendance. I disputed this role and reported the whole incident to VG with paper evidence of AE's scribbled instructions to me. It was totally unacceptable behaviour and I felt they totally undermined my position as Iain's Private Secretary and a total disregard to all my workload and commitment.

·  I have had discussions with VG concerning Conference—certain people did not put enough work and effort, but the people that did, we felt that we had worked as a team and the end result was successful in terms of the Leader's office despite the problems that became apparent.

·  Since coming back from Conference, I have together with Rebecca had to cover AE in terms of writing letters re: the Tour and sort out various queries.

·  The right people are not being kept informed well enough. One small example:—

I was asked to buy Iain a suit carrier, make sure Iain had clean laundry and get this delivered to Eastbourne by the time they all arrived there from Cardiff. I went out to buy one, and completed the instructions, also organised for the Intern to have a train ticket to deliver the items, he then arrived late home (past midnight). He completed the task efficiently, even ringing me at home to tell me he had left the case with the Concierge at the HYDRO hotel. Not one person rang to confirm Iain had received it, a phone call the next day would have sufficed. It wasn't until I spoke to Bert, the driver that I had to ask whether Iain had received it.

·  Betsy has asked me to do what work she may have, keep her papers in order, invitations and draft letters when necessary. Also it is important to keep her informed at all times of changes in the Diary.

·  Financial matters, both Constituency and Member's Allowances and Re-imbursements:—

I have received papers (not in any order) from AE. I have spoken to VG regarding this sensitive matter. There must be more papers covering a longer period. I will have to put the papers in order but again I am used to picking up the pieces of what AE should have already done.

·  I was concerned to learn that AE had been paid for nearly one whole year out of the Constituency allowance, when really I should have had some form of assistance myself. This now leaves a big question mark on the budget for 2001/02 and to date, although there is enough in the Constituency allowance, I am still being paid though Parliament even though I am working for Iain as 'Leader of the Opposition'. There are obviously questions to be asked?

·  I obviously need to put everything in order on behalf of Iain's representation as Member of Parliament for Chingford and Woodford Green, and I intend to do that so that everything is in proper financial order—keeping the records in good order, and in financial year order and not in a mess.


I feel it has been a good exercise for me to put all the above in writing. It is something I have carried with me the past year. I bear no grudges and my intention is not to 'tell tales' otherwise I could and would have done this earlier.

What has been difficult, certain people knew to what extent I was working and trying to keep things together and were happy to see me continue. It was disrespectful and hurtful to me when I was trying to do a difficult job without much support from the main people in the Leader's office (AE, AWC, JH and of course the 'Chief of Staff').

Many people observed but nobody was prepared to put things right. I found this situation very surprising and totally not normal. Hence, my comment to you Vanessa that you are 'a breath of fresh air'. Not only have you observed for yourself since joining the Leader's office how badly things were run, but you have been prepared to listen and take action, something which nobody did the past year. You have been prepared to create systems, structure and most of all, you have taken the time to listen to people's comments and problems—this is the way forward.

I hope that you will find this report helpful at the beginning of your administration. It has been difficult for me to put it all in writing as it should not have been necessary, but like you I am a responsible and caring person and we have the right aims, and it is important to help other people to carry out their jobs in the same efficient way.

24 October 2002

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