Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Guest Post : My Trip To PMQS

I’d never been in the House of Commons as a member of the press before and I doubt I will ever forget how I lost my press pass virginity either; it wasn’t exactly my finest moment. 

For the first few weeks in January I had been working for a political magazine which was based in the Westminster village, and I was getting my first real taste of the career I had been chasing for a life in after university. 

Last Wednesday I somehow managed to convince the Editor of said magazine that I should go to Prime Minister’s Questions; because I wanted to see one of the most one sided PMQ’s of the season, (it was the PMQs after Cameron’s big European speech) for research...

Anyway, that Wednesday morning the Boss had approved it, and managed to acquire a paper chit with which I would flash excitedly in front of the Common’s police force to gain access to the non-public areas of Westminster Palace. There was a catch though: I had to be accompanied by a colleague of his, probably because I was only temping with the magazine. 

So after I had passed the airport style security system – it is literally like airport security checks, the only thing they skipped the check on were personal orifices – and was through the main gates I waited in the Jubilee cafe to be shown where to go. 

For the first 10 minutes I sat in my own excitement, giddy with fervour, twitching sporadically as if suffering a sugar meltdown – I was going to be in the House of Commons for PMQ’s! A plethora of tourists and likely locals were swarming the cafeteria to buy their – highly overpriced – lunches. I, meanwhile, sat in the corner, perpetually rocking in the inertia of my own expectations. 

After those 10 minutes passed, it was then ten to twelve (ten minutes to kick-off); still no sign of my guide... I had moved into stage 2: enthusiasm had boiled into “what if”, I started anxiously itching under my neck, scratching my thighs, regularly checking the windows and doors for any signs of a familiar face; I was nervous this man might be late and I would miss the European public spanking that one party leader was to give another.

Then, I see my guide; I bolt upright and enthusiastically trot towards him. 

“Ah good, you are wearing a tie,” he said.

Yep, it’s blue too.” I replied, grinningly inwardly.

“Right well follow me then, we don’t have long.” 

Turning right outside the Jubilee cafe we made for the black security gates – which you could easily hop over, by the way – to access the non-public areas. He used his card, and I was through.

We walked briskly towards destination unknown; I was perplexed, possibly due to my own euphoria, I had no idea where we were. We hooked a right, then a left, did a twirl, and then he opened a door in some random corridor – the palace could definitely have been used for scenes in Hogwarts, let me tell you. Further on, we jumped into the lift on the ground floor; yes they built elevators in the Palace back in 1840, and I was surprised too...

The lift’s doors opened, and we were launched into a green and open room; almost as if it were a foyer to a football stadium. Loud noises roared off the foundations below, bouncing and echoing off all the walls in an archaic microphonic fashion.

A tall woman approached and greeted us. 

“Yep, both wearing ties; good.” She declared. “Ah, that coat is probably no good” she continued, pointing to my black hooded garment.

“I didn’t realise that there would be a problem with jackets and coats, I thought I only needed a tie” I replied. 

“No, men must wear a suit jacket to gain access to the house.” 

“Bugger” I thought, “I’m not getting in.”

“You can try if you like, but I don’t think the Porter will let you in.” The lady claimed.

“Okay, let’s ask” my guide said, clearly in full understanding of the lack of time which was encroaching on us. It was now 1 minute to twelve.

I walked quickly towards the Porter. He turned and gave me a severely disapproving look: “You can’t come in with that coat.”

“Never mind,” said the tall lady. “There is a selection of jackets you can borrow to get in.” 

“Brilliant!” I said. 

We all sharply moved towards the coat hanger – where all sensible members of the press left their coats to enter the house – frantically shifting through the layers of coats that were hiding the golden ticket to my seat in the press box. 

“Aha! I think I’ve got one.” The tall lady’s face smiled from around the mountain of hanging clothes, her body was completely concealed by the overabundance of coats and scarves. 

“We’re in” I thought, my guide smiled at me; we were safe.

“Here it is” the lady said, pulling out a petit woman’s jacket. 

The jacket was beige..., and had black criss-crosses over it. Now I admit, I was not there for a fashion parade, but the jacket was fit for a 5ft tall female, and I’m 6ft5...

I pulled one sleeve on, it was a snug fit – and by snug I mean I looked like a complete twat. 

The sleeve went about half way up my forearm; “fuck” I thought, “this is going to tear if I am not careful. This could have been Maggie’s jacket...” I moved my body into some highly unnatural pose to try to get the other sleeve on, almost like a crab stance with my back arched, my wrists kinked, spinning, bobbing, and fading with a concentrated expression on my face – it was a real effort to get it on – in the middle of the press foyer in the House of Commons...

“You look like a young Tory” my guide said to me. 

“So I definitely looked like a twat then,” I thought. “Why would he say that...? Fuck.”

We passed the Porter who gave me a smirk and batted a few eyelashes; this was not exactly good. Anyway, when we had passed the Gatekeeper, I felt the same sort of sensation that I usually get from a football stadium: the lights are bright, there are so many people, plenty of noise, and lastly, the seat structure in the press office follows a stadium style arrangement – the Commons really is a special place on a Wednesday at 12. For the little guys like the company I was temping with, our seats were at the top of the press box; the worst seats in the house in terms of distance from the speakers. 

“It’s alright though, from our view we get an excellent view of the whole house.” My guide told me.

I suppose that there was an element of truth in that; however it also meant that I had to walk past the BBC big dogs at the bottom, and then pass all of the right-wing press journalists to get to my seat. This on any other day would probably have been fine, but in case you forgot, I was wearing a bright beige, ridiculously ill-fitting granny jacket.

Nick Robinson didn’t see me, as far as I know, but The Mail writer caught my shame and smirked vigorously, then The Telegraph, and then The Express; The Guardian as usual was in its own world and was oblivious, The Morning Star could as well have been drawing propaganda on the walls in crayons, and the Independent couldn’t afford to get their journalist an underground pass, so they didn’t get the scoop either. 

Anyway, climbed we did. Until I was perched at the very top hand corner, right behind one of the Political Editors from one of the papers previously mentioned. “Don’t lean forward” I inwardly repeated religiously, “you’ll rip Maggie’s jacket!”   

 “Questions for the Prime Minister!” bellowed Bercow.

The journalists were not really that bothered with me anymore, I had arrived, and I was sat quietly in the corner. Although one woman kept peering at me throughout the session, as if to decipher what species of being I was; as no human would deliberately dress like that. 

Cameron definitely won that PMQ’s. Ed still doesn’t know where his party stands on Europe. However, and definitely deserving a mention, my granny jacket may well have been the 12th man that served as a distraction to the Miliband camp which helped the Tories; that is what I shall be telling anyone who asks and has not yet read this blog post, at least.  

Alex MacDonald is the Editor of The Backbencher Libertarian Magazine. Check out the site at www.thebackbencher.co.uk and follow him on Twitter at AjrMac

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