Name: Luke Murphy
Job: Senior parliamentary researcher
Where: Westminster, London
Luke Murphy is the Senior Parliamentary Researcher in a frontbench Labour MP's office. Luke studied Politics and Economics at university and started his career in finance, working for Barclays, Deutsche Bank and ABN Amro, before returning to university for a masters in International Politics. Luke started work in Parliament in 2009.
The story so far:
Politics and economics degree – Bath University. 2:1.
Including a year in industry at a small risk ratings firm.
Barclays Bank – anti money laundering.
Internship – MP’s office, Parliament.
Masters, International Politics, School of Oriental and African Studies.
MP'S Office - Researcher.
Hello Luke. What’s your job?
My job essentially is to support an MP in his Parliamentary duties and run his Westminster office. That includes the less interesting but vital things like diary management, responding to phone calls and emails, administrative duties, and more interesting things like policy and press work, constituency campaigns and issues, working on his portfolio as a shadow minister, policy, and general political advice.
What did you study?
My A-levels were in maths, economics, history and general studies. My parents were keen that I do maths. They felt it was what I should do because I’d previously mentioned being interested in finance. It was clear early on that it wasn’t a subject I enjoyed studying. That’s a lesson learnt, and I probably wouldn’t do it if I had the chance again.
I don’t think you should ever pursue something just because you think it would be good for your career if ultimately you don’t enjoy it.
Considering that I got an E, it probably wasn’t of much value when applying to university. Generally, I didn’t put enough effort into my A-levels so I got a B in economics, C in history, an A in general studies, and actually my general studies is what got me into university. I didn’t get straight into university, so after my exams I went into the clearing process, and I really wanted to get onto the Politics and Economics course at Bath University. They kept saying they would call me back, but they didn’t, so I rang every day. I rang the guy three times a day asking if they would have me on the course, and because of my A in general studies and my persistence, he said ‘ok, you’ve shown you can do something relevant to politics’, so I was accepted on to the course.
I really enjoyed the course, which was a 4 year sandwich course, and really varied. A lot of people I knew were doing the sandwich year in industry, and I wasn’t sure about it. A couple of my friends got placements in Parliament and I was quite jealous. I did a year at a small risk ratings firm, which wasn’t quite what they’d advertised, but actually I really enjoyed it.
What did you do there?
A lot of it was administrative stuff, but some of it was writing risk ratings reports on bank depository levels, analysing certain banks and giving them financial ratings. I worked a lot on their website, uploading content and writing some of the reports as well. But the thing I think I really got out of it was the office experience. I learned what was expected from you in an office. Not everyone wants to work in an office obviously but I didn’t really know what was expected of a job, and it’s a huge advantage to learn that. Despite the fact that it wasn’t really what I wanted to do, it helped me get other jobs, because employers thought that sort of experience was worthwhile.
You finished your final year of uni, what next?
I was interested in politics, but I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do, so I left uni with a 2:1, went to a job agency and asked for some work. They latched on to the fact that I’d done this industry work at a risk ratings firm and placed me in a temporary role at Barclay’s Bank, working on anti-money laundering stuff. It paid quite well for what I wanted, while I figured out what I wanted to do. I thought I might want to do some more studying, but I needed time out to decide.
I wouldn’t encourage anyone to jump into a career straight away.
If you’re not sure, I don’t think people should rush into something. You shouldn’t worry about getting the perfect job straight away, thinking you can’t change your path later. I was in the helpful position that my parents lived in London near where I wanted to work, and I know not everyone has that choice.
So when did you get involved in politics?
While I was at Barclays I got an internship in Parliament for two and a half days a week with an MP. Because that was voluntary work, luckily Barclays let me go down to 2/3 days a week, and I was living at home to save money on rent. The internship lasted for three months, and after that, I realised that whilst I would at some point like to come back, I wanted to study again.
So you went back to uni?
At that stage I couldn’t afford to go back to university, so I took another job. I moved to ABN Amro who were employing lots of people from Barclays, working on anti money laundering, compliance stuff.
After a couple of weeks I was made team leader of the Luxembourg team, working on site there because their files couldn’t be taken off site. That was really interesting, and great to be given that responsibility so early on. I was at ABN Amro for 5 months but I got some quick experience about how to manage.
After 5 months I’d saved enough money to do my masters, so I applied for a course at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, in International Politics. I didn’t really worry too much about what it was going to give me career wise, I just knew I wanted to study again. SOAS was absolutely brilliant, completely different to anywhere I’d studied. I learnt a lot about critical thinking, and how to analyse information. I got a merit, graduating in 2007.
I decided that before I really committed to the next stage of my career I wanted to go travelling, so I did a couple of contracting jobs to save up some money, and went to South America for five and a half months.
When I came back I had no money, and quite a bit of debt, so I decided to go back to investment banking for a while. I got a job through an agency, working for Deutsche Bank in compliance but at a higher level than previously.
After a year my contract ended at Deutsche, and having got nowhere with applications to Parliament, I was ready to do another internship. But then one final job came up, which asked for experience in Parliament with an MP who was on the Treasury Select Committee, at the time of the banking crisis. It was quite unusual for an MP at that point to be looking for someone with banking expertise, so I saw that and thought ‘If I don’t get this, I’ll definitely start seriously applying for internships’. Luckily, I got it. And I do think it was lucky, or at least it was a unique circumstance. I was always determined to do something other than banking, but it showed you can be doing something that’s not necessarily where you want to go, but that doesn’t have to prevent you from moving across to another area.
So do you think your banking career before Parliament was a positive?
I learnt lots of skills in banking that I don’t think I’d have learned here, and I think I’m a better researcher from the off than someone straight out of uni, because I’ve got better experience from different places.
Realising that you don’t necessarily have to be in a job that’s directly relevant is important. I know it sounds obvious but I think a lot of people worry about changing jobs. There’s always this worry about being pigeonholed, and about there being gaps in your CV, or making yourself stay in a job for a set time just so it looks better on your CV. If you can get to an interview (which is difficult no doubt about it), you can explain why you want to move. If they want you enough, they will understand. I had lots of things: three months at Barclays, interning here, a gap, back at Barclays, ABN Amro, a masters, and Deutsche. But if you know where you’re going, or even if you don’t, but you can explain why you want to make the next move, people won’t worry too much about it.
You were finally back in Parliament again!
I started working in Parliament in April 2009, staying for a year, working mostly on Treasury stuff, but also working on constituency work and reports.
Unfortunately my boss lost her seat in the general election in May 2010, so I was out of a job again.
Oh. What did you do about it?
I sent my CV out for lots of researcher jobs. I’d only been here for a year but I knew I really liked it and wanted to continue, although I knew working for an MP now in the opposition party would be different. I was lucky enough to get an interview with a couple of MPs which led to job offers, and I took the job I’m in now, on the basis that it seemed I would get on best with that MP. I have been in this job for nearly two years now.
So how are you enjoying it?
My job now is demanding, but I get on really well with my boss. The best thing about him is that he employs good people and trusts them to get on with their job, and doesn’t micromanage. He lets you get on and gives you the freedom to operate. I think you probably have more freedom here than in most jobs, simply because MPs are so busy. People are researchers but essentially everyone’s also an office manager.
My boss is very focused on improving and helping me learn, and I’ve learnt a lot in this job. Working for any MP is a unique job. The relationship between a researcher and their boss is one you can’t really describe. MPs definitely need people they can trust.
What’s an average day?
Every day is different, that’s the best thing about this job. I prepare material for speeches, briefings for meetings, attend meetings, and prepare briefings for the front bench policy area, in conjunction with other MPs’ offices, and their researchers and advisors. We spend some time reacting to what the Government’s doing and working on our response. That involves looking at our policies, doing proactive media stuff. My time is split between that side of it but also helping organise and structure all the policy stuff we’re doing. I also spend a lot of time together with the other members of staff in the office working on constituency campaigns and issues, getting a national hearing for constituency issues and the things that matter to my MP’s constituents.
We have a lot of meetings. Sometimes we’ll have a really busy week of meetings, and then a lighter week the next week to catch up, assess everything and spend time on other things. If there’s a particular issue coming up we’ll do a round of meetings around that, so we might meet a lot of homeless charities in the same week, to really immerse ourselves in that policy or area.
It’s really different working for a front bench MP and a backbench MP, and government in comparison to opposition too. You tend to work more with other offices than you would as a backbencher. Working for a backbencher, depending on the MP, it can be a bit more independent. You’re working slightly more isolated on your own, so you have to put a lot more work into engaging with other groups.
Is it what you hoped it would be?
This is a very rewarding job. One of the important things, particularly working on particular policy areas, is to go out and visit areas to see what certain changes made by different governments have done. It can make the job much more rewarding to get out of the bubble, and get out in the constituency meeting people who are directly impacted by your work. I don’t think opposition is as rewarding by any means as Government, but generally I feel I’m working towards a purpose.
What would you do if you weren’t doing this?
If I wasn’t doing this, I’d be a photographer, an actor or a scriptwriter. I’m not capable of being any of those things, but that’s what I’d do!
What’s your favourite thing about your job?
I come into work most days and feel like I’m doing something that’s worthwhile, which is important to me.
And least favourite?
Diary management. I hate it!
Is there anything you’d change?
We’d be in government.
What’s the industry like to get into and work in?
I wouldn’t want to discourage people because if you’re determined you can get into any job, but I think this is a hard job to get into. The proliferation, like in many industries, of unpaid internships makes it easier for some to get into the industry than others. I benefited from the fact that my parents lived near London, others benefit from the fact that their parents can afford to pay their rent while they’re working unpaid. So in that respect it’s extremely difficult. I know people who don’t come from London or a wealthy background who get in, but it’s so much more difficult for them than others, and that is a problem for the industry. It’s not as fair as it should be, and as a result it’s not as diverse as it should be. Our political system should have the brightest and the best as a part of it and I’m not sure we do the best to help make that happen.
Does the job rely on a genuine commitment to the politics you’re working on?
You’ve got to be quite committed. The job is by its nature quite political. Everyone’s not sitting around doing party politics but being an MP is very political and is guided by certain values, so it helps if you share those. If you’re a Lib Dem obviously it’s harder to get a job in Parliament because there are fewer MPs, especially after the 2015 election!! Some people might move between parties, but I think most people would probably find that uncomfortable. Fundamentally working for an MP is a very unusual relationship, which relies a lot on trust, and because they’re public figures, there are political discussions that go on, and it’s difficult to work with people if you’re not sure you can trust them.
Doesn’t that make it quite an insular industry?
Possibly, but I’m not sure why you’d want to work here if you didn’t believe in what you were doing. To really get the most out of working here you’ve really got to want to change something, and be motivated by that.
What sort of person would be suited to your job?
There shouldn’t be any sort of person. Someone who enjoys freedom in their job would definitely get on well here. Some people like to be managed, and like structure, and I don’t think this is for them. Every day is different and it’s just about what you make of it. People who don’t mind going on a very steep learning curve, because most MPs’ offices are understaffed, and you just get thrown into it and you have to learn. People need to be able to adapt and do a million things at once, from the very menial, to very sensitive interesting work, and enjoy the variation. And you have to work fast!
What advice can you dish out?
If you don’t work hard early on, in your A-levels or whatever, and because of that or for other reasons you don’t get the grades you want, don’t write yourself off. Just be prepared to work hard later on. I work hard in my job now because I’m passionate about it.
If you’re interested in politics, I would definitely say contact your local MP and offer to do something for them. There may not be jobs available but trying to get one or two weeks’ work experience is worth it, if not with your local MP then with another MP. Or you could try and arrange to meet them and discuss what it’s like to work in an MP’s office, or set up your own forum, getting a group of you together to try and meet with the MP and/or the researcher. Keep up to date with politics and what’s going on, and try and learn as much as you can about how it works before you try and get in. Although I don’t think anyone really knows how this place works, even if they’ve been here for ten years, MPs included! You’ve got to be really determined.
It’s really competitive, and you’ve got to be prepared to be knocked back quite a lot. Just try and learn as much about the job as you can, and speak to as many people as possible.
What will you do next?
The career progression in this job is difficult, and you have to be prepared for that. In some cases, you can go from being a researcher to a political advisor, but those jobs are few and far between. Your career can in many ways depend on your boss which is very unusual in comparison to most careers.
One thing Parliament could do with is much better training and HR stuff, which helps people develop. You wouldn’t want a system where people just become researchers and then MPs, I don't mean that. But there’s nowhere to go. You can become a junior and then a senior researcher, and those jobs can be very different, but above senior researcher, once you’ve been here a few years, in terms of developing and getting another job, you have to look outside of Parliament. People need to be aware of that and be thinking about what they want to do next. I don’t know what I want to do next, but I know there’s a time limit to being here of a few years. It’s really interesting, and I think you learn more here than in most jobs, in that short time.
The skills you learn are so transferable. I don’t think it’s always obvious. I know a few people who are looking to leave, and they’re not really sure what their skills are. You are a jack of all trades in this job, because you’re doing so much, managing an office, research, press, and policy.
It’s when you come to leave that I think you realise how much you have learnt. I also know people who have gone into other jobs and realised how much freedom they really had here, which I’m sure will be quite difficult when I do move on!