Thanks for writing this. I too think more people should consider this.
I agree almost entirely with what you’ve written, and I’d just like to add a couple of comments drawing on my own perspective - I worked as a Parliamentary Researcher for a year after finishing my undergraduate degree.
First, your impact really depends on how useful you are to the MP. Ideally, you want to work for an ambitious up-and-coming MP, who will be active and will rely on their staff. If you work for a government minister, they will focus on their policy brief, and you’ll be mostly redundant: they will have civil service staff, and sometimes a special advisor (which is a political appointment paid for by the central party), who will have policy domain expertise that you don’t. In my case, I worked for an MP who unexpectedly became a government minister at the end of my first week. I ended up doing very little work for my whole year, let alone impactful work. If you work for an unambitious or a very experienced MP—perhaps someone who has been there 20 years—then they may not be that active, or have as much use for you, or both.
I recognise you may not have much choice in who you work for—the jobs are very competitive—but I would advise someone to think twice about taking the job if their only option is to for an MP who won’t use your labour. If I’d known how my year would turn out, I would have looked hard for something else.
Second, regarding risks, it is the case that your impact depends on how your MP does—if they rise up the ranks, they can carry you with them, and you will get associated with being in their bit of the party. However, if your MP does something stupid, it doesn’t seem to cause you reputational damage. I knew several staffers whose MPs got into trouble. People felt sorry for them, rather than that they were tarnished by association.
Thanks, these are great insights and I hadn’t considered the first before. I’d always assumed one’s impact would improve if one’s MP became a minister (albeit depending on the policy brief), partly because the (very few) friends I know whose MPs were promoted saw their own work become more interesting and important, and some became political advisers. Perhaps a big factor is whether the new minister is allocated spads and whether they promote their parliamentary staff to these roles. I think a lot of spads are former assistants, but that doesn’t imply that assistants to ministers have a good shot at becoming spads (though I still assume they’d have a better shot than pretty much anyone else!). I am considering doing a similar post for political adviser roles though I have less experience in that area.
Yep, SpAds bit is key—If my employer hadn’t got a special advisor, I might have been useful
On the other hand, this isn’t as much of a constraint in opposition. Political Advisors are like senior senior parliamentary researchers—everyone’s part of one (tiny!) team.