MEETING THEIR MPsCategory: Politics
The most significant frontier of the House of Com’mons is not the debating chamber, where the parties play their games without reference to the world outside. It is that high gothic hall called the central lobby where the ordinary public — the schoolchildren, the old couples up from the country, the delegations, the tourists — wait to visit their members of parliament, to bring complaints or worries, to find a seat in the gallery, or to see for themselves the heart of democracy. It is here that representatives meet with the represented, across the gap between the great inside and the great outside.
The setting is heavy with atmosphere: history is pressed down on the visitor as he walks up the long passage past marble prime ministers and painted scenes of the monarchs, until he comes into the vaulted hall itself with mosaics of the four saints of the United Kingdom looking down on him, and sculpted kings, crowns and coats-of-arms crammed into every niche. An ornate ecclesiastical chandelier hangs from the centre, establishing an atmosphere of ,reverence, like a cathedral. Policemen in helmets guard the four corners of the hall, and messengers in white ties scurry to and fro. To the right the lobby leads to the House of Lords; to the left to the members’ lobby and the Commons; and straight 011, into the committee rooms, the dining-rooms and the terrace. The awed visitors fill in their green application cards with th$ policeman, and sit round the edges of the hall, waiting for their members, watching the flow of peers, MPs, officials and tourists through this eccentric crossroads.
Then the member comes in sight, ambling out from the House of Commons with the loose lope of people accustomed to walk long distances on stone floors; he chats with the policeman, the name of the visitor is called, and the member strides up to him with a .sudden transformation of expression — arm outsretched, face beaming to welcome this single voter, this sixty-thousandth part of his electorate. There is perhaps a great pumping handshake, a joke, a quick laugh, a how-good-of-you-to-come, a what-can-I-do-for-you, a what-about-some-tea; and the visitor is steered into the hallowed regions, past still more policemen, marble prime ministers and venerable paintings, into the tea-room, the bar, or the gallery of the chamber itself. The business is dealt with, the complaint taken note of, the splendours of parliament explained; then a division bell rings, or a new name is announced on the television screen, or another MP .hoves in sight; the member must go and listen, or vote, or go into committee. Another quick handshake, a can-you-find-your- way-out-of-this-maze, and the member lopes off again, back into the recesses of his gothic clob.
(From The New Anatomy of Britain by A. Sampson)