Dear Newly Elected Members of Parliament,
Firstly, welcome to Westminster! And now for the fun part. This is the part you've been campaigning for, dreaming about, fearing, and perhaps not daring yourself to think about too clearly in case it didn't happen: you're an MP. It happened. Well done.
Now, of course, you have a very different kind of pressure: how to hold your seat in five years, make an impression and maybe even a difference, and all without annoying the journalist who can has the power to publish, say, a picture of you doing a cringe-inducing and involuntary sex-face mid karaoke croon ... or something equally undesirable.
The bad news is that most of the time, nobody tells you the rules.
Oh, you can find out the official ones easily enough, like when to use 'the honourable member' and 'the right honourable member,' or what time to get in to reserve your seat - but most of the time, nobody tells you about those unofficial rules which everyone seems to know but few seem to share. The ones about how to win friends, influence people, get things done, and make it look effortless. One MP, an acquaintance of mine, once told me about how a very senior member of their party took them to lunch and proceeded to offload a battery of do's and don'ts. They should have been flattered to have been offered it. Most won't be.
And so, as I've worked in and around the Palace of Westminster for many years, I've put together a few of my own words of advice for all of you who are new to Westminster.
Do be candid about your hobbies. Kenneth Clarke likes his jazz; Andy Burnham likes his footy. Being candid and open about these things tends to help more than it hinders. What will definitely hinder you is pretending to be candid. Nobody criticises Boris Johnson for not showing much of an interest in football. But David Cameron rightly got a lot of flak for confusing the team he claims to support, Aston Villa, with West Ham. Unless your hobby is something really weird, let us know about it.
Do compress your message. The most effective messages are the ones which pack the most meaning into the fewest possible words. They're the ones you can easily fit into interview answers, leaflets, rushed conversations, tweets. Bill Clinton's line on abortion comes to mind: that it should be 'safe, legal, and rare.' The Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has nailed in on Europe: "European where necessary, national where possible."
Do find someone who can make introductions for you. Whether you're pitching a written piece into a paper or website, trying to get on a programme, or working on a campaign, it always helps to be able to 'just pick up the phone' because you know the right person already. But what about when you can't? Which, for most of you, will be most of the time. On those occasions it helps to have someone who works with you - but not for you - who can make that warm contact, either because they know the person already, or because they know how to reach them.
Do rehearse. Not just speeches. Also before each the Sunday Politics, Question Time, and even a chat with Derek from the local paper. I don't just mean 'think it through.' I mean find someone who can come up with the difficult questions you haven't thought of and fire them at you as officiously as Paxman, as slyly as Eddie Mair, or as brutally as the population of Leeds, if that last Election Debate is anything to go by.
Don't tweet when angry, after more than one pint, or after midnight. You could try tweeting just your own name though. That sometimes works.
Above all, do get a sounding board. I mean someone who's involved enough to know what they're talking about but detached enough to have a bit of an outside perspective. You really want someone who can be blunt with you - especially blunt enough to tell you when you're about to make a complete arse of yourself. Legend has it that one of the key qualities which David Cameron and George Osborne saw in Lynton Crosby was that he would swear at them. That makes sense to me: getting a sounding board with good judgment who's not scared to be blunt with you in private is a more important step than it sounds.
Welcome to one of the strangest, but potentially one of the most exhilarating and inspiring jobs in the world. Good luck.