A surprise invitation
I was intrigued when I received a letter bearing the portcullis logo. I have no real political affiliation, I just know that I must vote whenever there is an election. So, it was a surprise to discover that I had been invited by John Mann MP http://www.mann4bassetlaw.com/ to visit the Houses of Parliament.
An opportunity not to be missed
It was an exciting prospect, especially as I would be in London the day before. (We had tickets for the Paul Simon and James Taylor concert in Hyde Park. But that’s a story for another day.) Of course I wanted to go, this was an opportunity too good to pass up.
I arrived at the appointed place with enough to time to clear security which, as you can guess, is rigorous. A group of women from Bassetlaw in North Nottinghamshire began to gather in Westminster Hall. The vast, cathedral-style space dated back to the very beginning of our demoncracy.
Votes for Women
Within the Great Hall was an area set aside for a special exhibition https://www.parliament.uk/get-involved/vote-100/. The story of the suffragists and the first women in Parliament was completely absorbing. I could have spent a lot more time here but we were on a tight schedule.
We divided into groups and a tour guide took us, at speed, first to the House of Lords. Our guide was a bit of a character with a lilting Scottish dialect who explained that when seen on TV, the lords were not really asleep but in fact, ‘listening very intently’. From there we moved swiftly to the House of Commons. It was quite busy by now and I saw a few familiar faces in the crowds: Dame Tanni Grey Thompson, Iain Duncan Smith, Dennis Skinner and Diane Abbott.
Before very long we were back in the Great Hall and were taken to the Speaker’s House. This is a great privilege – not afforded to many. Canapés were served and the fizz flowed freely.
The Speaker’s Bedroom
It was a delight to see John Bercow enter the room. He addressed the group and amongst several anecdotes, he invited us to visit the Speaker’s Bedroom which although unused, housed a huge four-poster bed.
Rose Josephine Hudson-Wilkin, (Chaplain to the Queen) Laura Keunssberg,(Political Editor of the BBC) Yvette Cooper (Labour MP), and Rev Kate Bottley from Bassetlaw, all addressed the group with some inspirational words on the role of women in today’s world.
With just enough time to spare, John Mann gave me his last ‘entry to the House’ form. I was in awe. As I sat in the public gallery I saw the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, stand in for the Prime Minister. It was our democracy in action and an absolute privilege to be there, I enjoyed every second… and it all went by too quickly. To cap it all I was caught on camera which was shown in BBC Look North that evening.
It was fantastic!