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Diary from Westminster; Michaelmas Sitting

Oliver Briscoe

︎Nandy was in The FT  last weekend and The Times had Rayner, the former Shadow Education Secretary who left school with more children than GCSEs. Starmer had put out his little piece through the Fabian earlier that week. Streeting had a Times write-up the weekend before and Jarvis made clear he would not be mayor again; early Brighton scheming. Ours is on Sunday, Manchester. Johnson has steadied himself in the run-up with a good reshuffle; despite fuel, gas, food, pensions, taxes, benefits and furlough.

This Indian summer rather suited Parliament. It came and went over three weeks, a sitting to ease MPs back; dead winter held back for Conference season.

Walking down to get bread on that first morning, the morning of the sixth, all the school children were dressed to go back, short trousers and gingham, holding their parent’s hand and I too felt those happy schoolboy nerves; we were going back to proper Parliament.  
    Bobbing is back by Speaker’s orders, no more booked questions and speeches by zoom. The lobbies are back along the Commons dining rooms corridor, busy at lunchtime with canapés and pictures; in and out, in and out, drop-by, ‘I care about cancer’ badges and briefing packs handed and quietly put down somewhere and left there. The NFU had booked Jeremy Clarkson in one of the grand rooms of One Great George Street. Thus MPs were pushed and tempted back and with them the twenty somethings who make Westminster run, finding time for emails between lunches and drinks.
    Out Derby Gate on those fair evening, one is drawn like Odysseus past the rocks against the siren’s call; drinking, chatting outside the Red Lion pub in second bloom. Out and on course, headed for the Carlton, I passed Katy Balls chattering away in St James’ Park and, under the cloisters of St James’ Palace, Steve Baker, the Wycombe cowboy, making back with steady step. ‘It’s good to see all the players back to the stage’ as one of the old hands had put it to me.
By week two, we had a cold snap and a bit of rain and embittered it felt like winter had set for good. The Westminster beggars were wrapped in blankets, covered up, under the Portcullis arcade; eyes wide awake as if shocked by the anger of the rain. The Big Issue man was waiting for me at the top of the stairs; no good trade through the subway part closed for repairs.
‘Good morning sir’ as I met him eye to eye.
‘Good morning’ I mumbled back, having just noticed him as I came by.  
  Settled by then, Westminster was playing out inside. The Government had dug in to get things through. The chamber was full and nothing much seemed to happen beyond the palace gates. Only cutting from the cloisters across courtyards did the grey and the rain come to mind.  
    Lunching over the Thames, from that other side, one heard the vague hum of protest not too far off; an hour’s fresh air before making back to the carpeted corridors and banker’s lamps; back to one’s desk set back from the street, where we in-and-out-tray papers and handle the public.  
    Nothing one works at there is really the work, politics has no true aim; politics is, a tautological state of action, humans behaving around each other. Yes, there is change, power, principle, difference but they all come and go, only the arguing, the acting out, politics runs through it all. 
    A false fire alarm forced me out onto Richmond Terrace and its neat whorled cobbles. Staring back, I was pleased to find a handsome Georgian terrace and learn Stanley had once lived two doors down. We are not allowed to come and go that way, just a gate from the people on Whitehall, behind the banners, tannoys and protest songs that blare at Downing Street all day long.

The House rose last Thursday, by then few were still about. The summer recess silence came back to the Palace, up the stairs, along the corridors, down the halls; doorkeepers and officers about like gargoyles or players in the painted friezes and the rest of us walking past without a whisper, with some purpose elsewhere︎



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