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25 February 2015

A day in the life of a Christian in Parliament

A day in the life of a Christian in Parliament

Rebecca Smith is a senior parliamentary assistant. She works for the Rt Hon Stephen O'Brien, the Conservative MP for Eddisbury in Cheshire and the prime minister's envoy to the Sahel at the Foreign &Commonwealth Office. She lives in London with friends.

"I wake up about half past six. If I'm going to do anything spiritual I have to do it in the morning as I just want to go to sleep at night. So I wake up early and try to spend some time with God. Then I get ready, leave the house at 8.30am and walk to parliament.

The first thing I do is check my boss's emails –he gets hundreds. I then work out who needs to deal with what. I run a team of four, including myself. No day is the same, but I always have a coffee before I crack on. 

I've been working for Stephen since January 2014. I'd always wanted to work in Westminster since doing work experience here aged 18, but after university I worked in the European Parliament in Brussels with CARE for a year. I really wanted to be in London, but God had other ideas. I love how God knows what is best for us, better than we know ourselves. After that, I worked for the Christian Conservative Fellowship until the 2005 election, when I went to work for David Burrowes [MP for Enfield Southgate and chairman of the Conservative Christian Fellowship] for five years. Following the 2010 election, I felt I should leave politics and moved on. My previous church asked me to work for them so I did that for three years.

Fast forward to a disastrous job at a tech start-up and I was looking to come back to politics. Having worked for a Christian MP, I knew I needed to work for an MP I respected. For me, a key thing when working in politics, is being able to respect your boss' decisions, or at least understand their heart for making that decision, even if it's not something you agree with. It's about working for someone who shares similar values. I wouldn't expect anything other than being able to be a Christian in the workplace, and Stephen is really open to having Christians working for him. When the role came up, I knew it was too good to turn down. 

My predecessor described my role as "running him and running the office", which sounds a little arrogant, but it is about supporting the MP in everything he does, both in Westminster and the constituency. I have overarching responsibility for the team of people supporting him on a daily basis.

As the prime minister's envoy to the Sahel, he works a lot with the Foreign Office (FCO). Today he's meeting with the Egyptian ambassador, so that's the kind of thing I would arrange – working with the team at the FCO. With the election approaching, it's about ensuring his constituency role continues really smoothly. Once the campaign starts we can't use work time on party politics as we're paid by parliament, but we will continue to deal with constituents' concerns, just from Cheshire, not Westminster.

Every day in Westminster is different. Today I started the day making enquiries about a planning appeal being held for a big housing development in a small village in Cheshire. The residents aren't happy. I break for lunch and eat in parliament with colleagues and other contacts in Westminster. There are lots of Christians working in parliament who I've known for years as well as lots of new faces;God does seem to keep bringing people here.

I'm also chair of governors at a local school. I've recently been balancing the challenges of a new head teacher and an Ofsted inspection, so I often make calls during my lunchtime to resolve any problems that arise. 

Then I head back to my desk to deal with whatever has come up that day. Today I'm trying to make sure Stephen can get from West Africa to North Africa in 24 hours. Often in the afternoon, I spend two or three hours talking through things with Stephen before heading back to the office to action everything or divvy it out to the rest of the team. There are also times when I have to act on his behalf – in meetings and on the phone.

I've worked in Westminster for 12 years, on and off, and I'm still amazed that I get to work in this incredible place, which I absolutely love. 

I finish about half six or seven, depending on what is going on in the office. I then either walk home and cook dinner, or head out for dinner with friends. If I'm in for the night, I might catch up on Suits or House of Cards, or plan for Sunday school at my church, St Sepulchres, which I head up. 

After pottering around at home, I usually go to bed around 11.30pm and am always asleep by midnight."

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