This week I was invited by John Bercow MP to the House of Commons to witness first hand Prime Minister’s Questions and to have a chat about Buckingham on one of the busiest days of the year, when Philip Hammond would set out his budget for the United Kingdom in 2017.
Arriving at Westminster tube station and making my way past the International Women’s Day protest I was quickly hustled through airport-style security checks into the Gothic grandeur of the courtyard, with Big Ben looming on a drizzly day.
I was ushered by one of Mr Bercow’s aides through the courtyard archway, into historic Speaker’s house. I was amazed by the detail, history and beauty of the inner chambers, each room leading to another bigger room, with more intricate detail, with book-lined walls and familiar faces from history looking down. In the Speaker’s house the State Bed is situated in the State Bedroom, which was originally intended for the monarch to sleep in on the night before the Coronation, although now it serves as a venue for lectures.
The rooms are decorated in revival gothic style, with deep reds and golds, along with the family crest of each Speaker throughout history adorning the plush red walls.
Mr Bercow had to design his crest especially for the wall – the scimitars represent Essex, where he attended university, the ladder represents social mobility, four gold balls representing England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales but also reflecting his passion for tennis, with the motto declaring ‘all are equal’.
After a long chat with Mr Bercow about the issues affecting Buckingham and a bit of history about his involvement in the area, he disappeared to put on his formal attire as his aide and I left to take our positions for the speakers’ procession.
Both the Commons’ and the Lords’ Speaker formally open their respective Houses each day with a ceremonial procession from their official residences within the palace to their respective chambers at the start of business.
The procession on Wednesday consisted of a Commons’ Doorkeeper, the Sergeant at Arms with the mace, the Speaker, the Trainbearer, Chaplain and Secretary.
Inside the chamber, familiar faces from throughout the years peer intently across the divide, with the hubbub and bustle of the chamber filled with murmuring of MPs not quite paying attention to what’s being talked about on centre stage.
The chamber is surprisingly small and claustrophobic, with MPs squashed on to the benches and in some instances sitting on the floor between the aisles, and standing towards the back of the chamber.
The banter and chatter between MPs seems good-natured, with George Osbourne and Tim Fallon sharing a joke before Theresa May stepped up to the plate for PMQs – and the mood in the Commons instantly changes.
Party lines were drawn and each statement from the leader of the party was met by humongous jeers and cheers – the volume of which really took me aback!
The biggest cheer came for Tim Farron, who faced a wall of laughter as he attempted to ask a question. Restoring order, the Speaker shouted: “I don’t know if members are cheering because it’s ‘finally’ or it is because of the popularity of the Right Honourable gentleman – but he is going to be heard!”
PMQs was followed by Mr Hammond announcing his budget, which appeared to be met with initial optimism, although considering Mr Hammond’s usual austere persona his speech contained a surprising amount of jokes, most notably referring to Jeremy Corbyn: “A well-functioning market economy is the best way to deliver prosperity and security to working families and the litany of failed attempts at state control of industry by Labour leave no-one in any doubt about that.
Except, apparently, the right honourable gentleman opposite, who is now so far down a black hole that even Stephen Hawking has disowned him.”
What an amazing experience it was to see our own MP, who many of us see at local events, playing such a key role in our country’s political governance.