Monday, December 11, 2017

The Mother of Parliaments

I had a fascinating experience last week. As one of the current directors of the Crime Writers' Association, I was invited to not one, but two award parties in the Palace of Westminster, the home of the British Parliament.

Under the shadow of Big Ben, the famous clock – currently shrouded in scaffolding because of repairs – we walked along to the visitors' entrance, where the security would put any airport to shame, and found ourselves at last admitted to the huge,amazing space of Westminster Hall. It is the oldest part of the building, erected by the son of William the Conqueror in 1097 and still in almost its original form.

I think the thing that surprised us most was the freedom we then had to move about. I had thought we would be shepherded to the rooms where the parties were being held and then escorted out again, but far from it. We had an hour between the two events and were able to go first to the House of Lords and then to the House of Commons (not quite the same as your Senate and House of Representatives but with some similarities) and watch ongoing debates from the Strangers' Galleries – quite compelling.

When we arrived at the first of the parties to present awards for contributions to literacy – promoted with some passion by winner Cressida 'How to Train Your Dragon' Cowell – and found we had our own little drama. One of our members has a husband who, though he doesn't write crime himself, is fascinated by guns, knives, and all sorts of weapons of destruction and is liable at any time to have examples about his person. He discovered to his dismay that he had in his pockets several folding knives of different sorts and though he did of course immediately disclose them, the bobbies on the Westminster beat weren't remotely amused.

He was hauled off immediately and we all, not least his wife, waited in some suspense to find out whether his address for Christmas was to be the Tower of London. However, they were merciful and even agreed he could get some if not all of them returned later, after signing something that he claimed said that he acknowledged he'd been a very naughty boy and wouldn't do it again.

Our second event was to award the prize for the Parliamentary Books of the Year. This was fertile ground for spotting politicians who were surprisingly chatty and friendly in the social setting and were amusing speakers too. The most emotional presentation was to Brendan Cox for his book about his wife Jo, an MP murdered by a right-wing extremist.

Westminster is a romantic place, so full of history, so beautiful in its site on the River Thames. But our most lasting impression of the place was the work that was going on long after office hours in both Houses, and the painstaking and exhaustive research that the speeches we heard displayed, as well as the genuine passion for policies that will improve the lives of the poorest in our society.

It's very easy for us to be cynical, sneering and dismissive about our politicians. I think we shouldn't be.


Marianne Wheelaghan said...

What a fascinating experience. Despite working very close to Westminster for half a dozen years, I never found the time to visit our Parliament. It's now high up on my to do list – I'll make sure not to bring any sharp instruments! Oh yes,I agree, politicians deserve our respect – well, most of them.

Aline Templeton said...

I think what awed me most watching the debates was the speeches absolutely full of technical detail that they have to listen to without falling asleep! I'm sure I couldn't do it.

Sybil Johnson said...

What a great experience. I've seen debates in the House of Commons on C-Span here in the U.S. Always very interesting.

Vicki Delany said...

I was in London last week! Too bad I didn't know you were too.

Aline Templeton said...

Oh Vicky, what a shame! It would have been lovely to meet you. I'm down quite a lot on CWA business but only from time to time. Edinburgh, though - if any of you are heading to Scotland, be sure to let me know.