Blog Post No. 14 (31/10/2019) - The Long Days of London
I must admit, it was the first time I had done something like this. But I was too devious to admit it to those who matter because I needed a big interview to justify my calling this a business trip. After all, I had not come to England to visit a few pubs and buy an old cuarto at Oxford town market. That was merely a bonus. No, I was here for this interview and time in Parliament I had worked for weeks to get. The other politicians might have been above taking an interview with an American journalist with few credentials writing for a small midwestern paper, but the United Kingdom Independence Party was not. That served us both well. I had an excuse for reserving a table at the “Wesley’s Cafe” by Parliament square and material for my next big article.
I was in a hurry to get through the tube this morning and with luck I emerged from the underground in the shadow of Big Ben. No bonging for me though, the famous clock tower was undergoing some serious maintenance. I made my way across Parliament square and admired the scene. The Palace of Westminster is everything one would imagine, a neo-gothic crown jewel in set squarely in the forehead of British authority. My musing was somewhat disturbed by a group of pro-Brexit protestors waving British and UKIP flags. Most of the British population were be unsatisfied with the suspended animation Brexit was stuck in right then and some enough to protest the fact. And I was going to meet with one of the men behind this movement, the current leader of the party that started the Brexit process. While they may not be electorally relevant anymore, they have played a bit role in British politics that made all of this possible.
So it is with thoughts of independence and liberty that I ambled past the statues of Abraham Lincoln and Mahatama Gandhi, two colonial figures memorialized in the old Imperial capital. I had my questions ready, our table reserved, my best suit on and a camera crew will be waiting for us.
Many long hours went into preparing for that interview, busy evenings bent over my computer watching the proceedings in Parliament and reading the latest literature about British politics. My guest, Mr. Braine, was a jovial and kind-eyed fellow with little of the air of a politician about him. Except for, perhaps, his fluidity of speech and the breeziness of his answers. By the time he showed up, I had finished eating and offered to pay for his meal as well. He declined because he was on a schedule. While he was not the first guest I had in mind (I had first invited the UKIP polemicist and youtuber Carl Benjamin), he had the answer to my every question and even offered me drinks at the Red Lion pub that afternoon. I declined because I had big business elsewhere, in Parliament.
It was not long before I found myself standing in famous places. Here was where King Charles I was beheaded. Here was where King Richard gave his speech. That stone over there marked the exact spot where Cromwell dismissed Parliament for being “intolerably odious to the whole nation... You were deputed here by the people to get grievances redressed, are yourselves become the greatest grievance.” That is a sentiment that many would have agreed with at the time, as Parliament held the then-current government hostage and the political world in a state of paralysis on Brexit Eve, without the mandate of an election in sight. But those sentiments are far from the satin chambers of the House of Lords or the green-backed chairs of the House of Commons and the political class that runs them. I had the pleasure of sitting in both that momentous day.
I chose the House of Lords first for two reasons. One, my father’s family were lords themselves in Lancashire and I have distant relatives with peerages. Two, the line was much shorter. I stole into the galleries quiet as a mouse and sat quietly there while the lords and ladies tamely debated the Grenfell disaster inquiry. Thanks to my long study, I was aware that the government was facing a scandal over the easily preventable deaths of poor Brits in a fire in the Grenfell complex. No less than three lords and two ladies gave their speeches in calm, measured tones expected of British nobility. I found myself engrossed in the quiet debate of the chamber, the Walpolian accoutrements, the well-ordered procedures and the sharpness of the lords and ladies.
That was in sharp contrast to the House of Commons, a famously rowdy space where heckling and loud speeches are expected on top of all the honorifics “...the honorable gentleman from Wellingborough will now give his speech…”. The line was long to get in, but it helped that the waiting room was painted with some of the most famous scenes in British history. The four saints of Britain watched over it all and I got a good read in. At last we filed into the observation chamber. Some of the biggest figures in British politics were present. Sajid Javid, Jeremy Corbyn and Priti Patel were all in attendance. Lastly but not leastly, John Bercow was the notorious speaker of the Commons and closing out on his last day of ten year’s leadership. After the commotion, John Bercow gave a heartfelt goodbye and shook hands with every last member of the chambers. I sat there for the whole thing, pointing out famous politicians to older audience members and watching the whole thing with the odd feeling that it was the end of a political era. Soon after, the UK had historical elections and the last nail was put in the coffin of the Bercow years. Soon I was walking down the darkened Thames by streetlight, heading anywhere because I could.