Watching PMQs

During the first month of any year, I have this feeling that I am not going to do enough. I know exactly where this feeling comes from. For the last handful of years, I have put up a fresh wall planner as we enter the New Year, so being able to see all the crossed out days with no entries rack up, and a full year of emptiness ahead of fills me with a bit of unease. What if I just sit and not do anything at all?

The feeling soon disappeared as during the month of January, I played around with my photography skills, met up with family, met up with friends, sorted some work bits out, and even volunteered some of my time. More on the volunteering in a later post.  As these few months have past until now, my diary has filled up.  There was absolutely no need to have had this concern.

This blog post is writing about my first big event of the year which happened on January 23rd which was when I went to watch Prime Minister’s Questions.

My friend Seb gave me a Christmas present. I initially told him off as, for reasons clear to those who know me, I didn’t really want to do Christmas this year.  I stated I would be getting no one any presents.  His present, sealed in a gift bag, was opened by myself on Christmas Day. I had no idea what it could be.  I got really emotional when I read the letter inside. Seb has contacted his MP and got reserved tickets for PMQs. The letter mock-up, created by Seb, was written on Commons headed yellow paper and presented in the same font style used that they use. I love politics. It was a really thoughtful gift. Thank you Seb.

So down to London we went. We stayed in a hotel in Bloomsbury. It was a very nice hotel and in a very good location. On the 22nd January we cycled to the Royal Courts of Justice to see if we could watch a juicy trial. Sadly fore-planning was not in either of our minds, and so, by the time we arrived most cases had finished or were mid-way through. Then it was a cycle along The Stand, and then Whitehall and then we went into parliament. Again, no plan was devised but we listened to two debates, one in the Commons and one in the Lords – both of course mentioning Brexit!

Side note here.  Just as we were coming out, I bumped into Steph from BBC Breakfast.

The next day, we ensured we left plenty of time to get past security in parliament and waited in the central lobby for the Speaker’s Procession. A police officer shouted when he was near, and then bellowed “Hats off, Strangers”. As soon as the mace and the Speaker had past us, we joined the already forming queue for our seat in the Public Gallery.

I often watch PMQs, either sped up on YouTube or at a normal speed, live on BBC Parliament.  Despite the theatrics, the ground covered and questions asked does give an interesting brief overview into how well, or not so well, the government is doing, or how they perceive they are doing..  Afterwards there is plenty of commentary on how the Prime Minster or leader of the opposition has performed.  I enjoy it.  It is putting the Prime Minster on the spot to try to give answers to issues and problems and makes, for that moment, her directly accountable.  I can fully see some people’s calls for it to be scrapped.  Merged between proper business in the house, Members of Parliament pile in to the Commons at midday on Wednesday, listen to, or partake in, this theatrical performance, cheer, murmur and groan, and then shuffle out when the half an hour is up.

After waiting a short time in the queue, we went in and took our seats.  It was unusual because an usher thought it imperative that we sit where he felt best.  We had decided the position was not provide the best viewing experience so moved slightly along the pews.  Shock, and maybe even disgust fell upon his face when he realised we had not sat exactly where he wanted.  It caused no harm or hindrance to the process of filling the seats.  “I’ll let you move this time” or something along the lines, he said.  I smiled.

Sitting, seeing the Members of Parliament beneath us, question each other and debate matters in PMQs is incredibly fascinating.  Despite my occasional watch on YouTube or the telly, actually being there in person made it almost tangible and gives a different viewing experience.  Being able to see the expressions, and interactions. when the cameras are not focussing directly, on them, gives you a more nuanced view in the chamber as a whole.   I admit that there is sadly a sense of distance because of an almighty glass screen.  Back in 2004, a member of the public, hurled condoms full of purple flour at Tony Blair during PMQs.  A temporary protective glass screen was already in place but the person was in the area without the glass screen.  This however led to the installation of a £1.4 million explosive proof and bullet proof glass screen which divides the politicians from the public.

After Prime Ministers Questions, we went and viewed the Speaker’s Committee for the Independent Standards Authority and then the ‘Establishment of a town of culture award’ in Westminister Hall.  Seb and I found some screenshots from the videos.

I strongly recommend to go and spectate.  It is completely free and your right as a British citizen.  For most debates, you just have to queue up and go in.

Just check here https://calendar.parliament.uk/calendar and then head to the Cromwell Green Entrance.

If you want to watch PMQs, then it is best to drop an email to your MP and ask for tickets to guarantee you a place in the public gallery.

Speak soon,

Samuel

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