Protesters, Pugin and Port: Harper’s first day in Parliament

We have consoling news for those of you who are still coming to terms with the demise of W4MP’s own Dean Trench (see his Obit here). A young whippersnapper with the beguiling name of Harper Pepperswitch has come forward and is bravely going to be sharing with us the experiences of a rookie staffer from day one. Instalment One is below.

We feel confident that Harper will go far, having already committed to memory, we hear, the whole of the W4MP/Dods booklet for new staffers.  This gives us the opportunity – as if we needed it – to mention that the online version can be seen here: http://www.w4mp.org/library/guides/2010-guide-to-working-for-an-mp-for-new-staff/.

Punch cartoon from 1843 depicting events inspired by the Rebecca Riots of South Wales
Punch cartoon from 1843 depicting events inspired by the Rebecca Riots of South Wales

It only took 8 months of scouring the ‘w4mp’ website, 78 copies of my curriculum vitae sent first class in bonded paper to SW1A 0AA and 6 interviews to land my dream job of working for an MP.

Stepping out of the alien craft/space station that is Westminster Tube on my first day, the Palace of Westminster cut a truly breathtaking sight.

I clenched in my hand a tan leather satchel; a graduation present from my great uncle who is convinced that now I work in parliament I can get him that 5% income tax reduction he has consistently harped on about every Christmas for the past 8 years.

Contained in my satchel: a fountain pen, silver plated card holder embossed with ‘H.P.’, lip balm, mints, leather bound address book, an assortment of multicoloured paperclips and a ‘Help the Aged’ notepad.

Standing at the gate armed with my satchel I was ready to enter the Houses of Parliament, I was ready to serve the good people of Weaselthorpe and ascend the first rung of my political ladder. It was with this unbounded enthusiasm and with a spring in my step that I ventured forth into the visitor queue at St. Stephen’s Entrance.

After waiting for a good while among the hubbub of loud French nationals, bantering school students and doddering constituents I eventually found myself in the security bunker. A fairly militant looking policeman gave my satchel a good rummage and I was threatened with arrest if I didn’t concede the firecracker and switchblade I happened to have in my pocket (joke).

Security cleared and with a thoroughly unrecognisable mugshot around my neck I was ushered through Westminster Hall and into Central Lobby. ‘Here I am daddy… I’ve made it’ I thought to myself as I stepped into the illustrious and celebrated atrium. I breathed a sigh of job satisfaction and perched myself on one of the deep green leather benches that circumnavigate the room.

Sitting waiting for my new boss (an MP by the name of Jim Poole) I could not help but notice the vast array of characters that throbbed their way through Central Lobby. If ever where there a personification of the British Isles it would be here; several placard waiving bee keepers, two women in tank tops emphatically arguing about the rights of fish embryos, a rabble of sharp suited lobbyists whispering into their Blackberrys and in the midst of this, one loan Ghurkha reading a copy of the Evening Standard.

Cutting through the crowds were several stately men dressed like they were about to dine at the Captains Table on the Titanic’s Gala night: tails, bow ties and a large regal gold crest adorning their midriff. One administered a stern look as he swept past; “I am the law” it seemed to say. I glanced to the ceiling and cowered behind my satchel. These I later learned were the Doorkeepers, sentinels of the chamber and charged with ensuring that the time honoured rules of parliament are obeyed.

Before too long Poole arrived eating a sausage roll and clutching a grease stricken copy of Hansard, “Harper… chomp… good to… chomp… see you again, let’s go… chomp… to the office… chomp munch”.

As we made our way through the assorted pathways, I spent the entire time with my mouth open salivating at the impossibly intricate wood carving, thick patterned wallpaper and lashings of gold leaf. Needless to say I took no note of where we were going; the whole place simply oozed prestigious weighty splendour.

Stairs, corridor, stairs, lobby, outside, inside, tunnel, escalator, lobby, stairs, outside, inside, lobby, lift, corridor and then finally door; a smart brass plaque read ‘Jim Poole MP’.

What was I to expect as an MP’s office after all that? A marble floored expanse with a roaring fire and classical pillars of fine alabaster?  Several heavy oak desks upon an acre of antique carpet, an oil painting of a prominent political theorist and perhaps a few bronze busts to set the whole thing off…?

As the door swung open into a room, perhaps slightly larger than a Renault Espace my mouth dropped open once again… two desks, a knackered green sofa and a view directly overlooking a brick wall, the whole place liberally smattered with empty coffee cups and old copies of House Magazine. On the wall hung a tatty map of Weaselthorpe and a photo of Poole holding up a placard reading ‘No Surrender over Weaselthorpe Bowling Green’.

“Here we are,” Poole pronounced as he took his seat behind what looked to be a large circular coffee table. “I don’t use a desk, more space for interns y’see, we can fit four of them round this thing”.

Sitting on an office chair behind one of the desks was my new colleague, not quite the purse lipped, double-barrelled, immaculately coiffed secretary I was expecting. More of a gum chewing, caffeine soaked, twenty something who enthusiastically introduced herself as “Sandy”,

“So your Dean’s replacement” she barked, “Good chap Dean, knew what he was doing by the time he left. Shocking business – his death.” [Missed that?  Click here.  Ed]

Poole’s Blackberry vibrated and he sped out the room pointing to the other desk as he went. “You can take Dean’s old one, might need a bit of a clear out though”.

I sat down and rummaged through the draw finding several packs of import cigarettes, half a bottle of cheap Chianti and a well thumbed copy of Private Eye.

“Here I picked you up something” Sandy blurted from behind.

She handed over a crisp new shiny booklet, ‘Working for an MP’ boldly emblazoned on the cover (pick up your copy today!).

“This is for all new bag-carriers; it contains all you need to know about everything that matters in parliament; keep it, read it and learn it”

Before I could get too comfortably settled Sandy informed me that something VERY special was ready for collection. I knew what was coming and felt butterflies.

A flashback begins from when I completed a security form after my last interview, did they find out about the time I stole a packet of Ready Salted from Elly Miller when I was four? Will they investigate the time I accidentally pellet gunned Lucky the goldfish with an air rifle when I was twelve?

Sandy led me on another winding route involving several staircases and a trip through the basement. Luckily at our destination there was no police taskforce waiting to whisk me off.

I went through the initiation process; there was no fanfare, no goody bag, not even a ‘welcome to parliament’ pat on the back. It was over in a matter of seconds.

However, what I did have was a smart green parliamentary pass dangling around my neck. I am now what they call a “Passholder”. Free to roam and escort, free to wander unshackled, free to dine at the Debate during peak hours. It was all mine, finally.

Upon leaving the pass office, I made a point of walking past the PASSHOLDERS ONLY cordon; I gave the Police Officer a smug grin as I gingerly tap-danced past.

Reading the back of my new pass was a rather intimidating affair – seemingly I am going to have to work very hard to keep myself out of prison. It is quite amazing to think that a person can commit so many criminal offences with one bit of plastic.

Yet for all its importance the pass gives little away to the outside world about its owner’s profession. Think of it like a Hermes Tie ‘understated exclusivity’; amongst the general public only the pass-holder knows the magnitude of what is held round their neck. However, for all those hoping to use it in the same vein as waiving a black Amex at nightclub bouncers (and I hear some have tried) they will be bitterly, bitterly, bitterly disappointed.

We made our way to the office and I sat down at my new desk. A plethora of finely embossed stationery was laid out before me; I wrote my name on a compliment slip and tweeted about it afterwards “Harper is writing on House of Commons stationary”. I wondered if the novelty could ever wear off then chastised myself for thinking such a thing… of course it bloody won’t.

A couple of hours of stationery gawping, phone call fielding and photocopying passed and the clock hand reached the cusp of 6pm. Sandy jolted up from her seat and grabbed my arm… I just had time to reach my trusty satchel before she darted out the office and – still dragging me – ran along a few corridors and down several sets of stairs.

Arriving black, bruised and carpet burned we reached an establishment hidden away in the underbelly of parliament which is known to serve all manner of sauces: bitter, gin, vodka, larger, wine, stout, port and bacon fries…. they call it the Sports and Social. We walked in and the crowd stood still for a moment as everyone’s eyes darted to my pass… ‘Jim Poole MP’ some could obviously just make out, I could tell because of the approving nods and shaking heads as I nervously shuffled up to the bar and ordered my first drink.

What remained of my time in the S&S is anyone’s guess. I do recall having a jolly little paddle in the Portcullis House water feature, luckily I was apprehended just before climbing the atrium trees by a more seasoned bag-carrier by the name of Sadie who muttered “you’ll get on well here” before storming off towards the exit.

I finished off the affair with a bonanza, which involved depositing the remnants of my evening all over an Italian tourist as I departed the main gate (at least I had my – surprisingly absorbent – ‘Help the Aged’ notepaper with me).

My first day in parliament was, I suppose, rather unremarkable to the people already inside the ‘Westminster Village’. For me however, walking through those corridors and being part of that environment was an utterly extraordinary experience. It’s going to be an interesting time working for the Hon. Jim Poole MP, but don’t worry… I’ll let you know how I get on.


Added 7th June 2010 by Harper Pepperswitch