by Quilbert Silversword
"HM Parliament has had a truly remarkable run, and as such would make an excellent addition to the National Trust’s already stellar property portfolio."
It is known as the mother of all Parliaments. The Palace of Westminster, showered in golden glory, has for hundreds of years been a beacon of democracy. It is here that every year, ma’am lets us all ruddy well get on with it. Here empire was built, freedom was won, and great British institutions were forged in a tradition of individual liberty and fairness.
While it has not always been the case, today, Parliament is open to the public. In fact, it is your legal right as a Briton to unhindered entry into the Palace whenever the moment strikes you.
Upon being invited into the Palace for a literary awards ceremony, I was compelled to exercise this liberty one cold March evening, and document my findings here. What I discovered was shocking, and may have changed my life forever.
The people’s voice: quite rude
Before I begin weaving my own tale, we must first look to the public to understand what Parliament means to them.
Take Westminster’s Big Ben. Today, the London landmark is publicly reviled for disappearing behind very expensive renovations built to stave off its inevitable prolapse. As an exercise in what my research intern tells me is legally-mandated journalistic practice, we covertly surveyed two ‘vox pops’ from the popular Internet website, Trip Advisors, in order to close the gap with the zeitgeist:
MrBen is under construction
✯ / 5
I’ve seen it before but he’s all covered up 😢 Poor Mr Ben . I feel sorry for someone who is traveling to see Mr. Ben. There is nothing to see but the face of the clock.
Or one dismayed citizen, from the still-recovering Coventry:
✯✯ / 5
Don't bother visiting at the moment. Still undergoing refurb work so unless you like looking at scaffolding and tarpaulin not worth the hassle. Plus the building next door is full of Braindead zombies
But as many foreigners don’t know, ‘Big Ben’ does not actually refer to anything at all in particular. It is in fact the historical moniker for a rodent’s nest placed under royal oath at the top of Elizabeth Tower. It is the walling off of this tower that has led to Parliament’s algorithmic evisceration at the hands of dismayed continental tourists.
But I wasn’t there to listen to broken clocks, even those that are right twice a day. I was there to fulfil a childhood dream of mine—to see we unfortunate, mucky-faced peons represented in the belly of the beast.
Entry policy: a conspicuous lack of doormen
I must stress that this was not my first visit to Parliament. That honour goes to an old boy’s school trip at the tender age of 17. Upon this inaugural visit, I picked a scab too hard and bled all over the floor. Needless to say, the Parliamentary staff were very confused and didn’t quite know what to do with me. I was ejected hesitantly.
Since that fateful first visit, the door policy of the Houses of Parliament has deteriorated somewhat. Nobody checked my credentials upon arrival at the visitor entrance. Instead, a man in a lanyard handed me my own lanyard and waved me through to an Ex-ray machine.
If the bar to entry is this low for Parliament, I can only dread to think what the situation is like at our Northern Irish border. As far as this reviewer is concerned, neither the health and safety policy nor the security protocols of Westminster stands up to muster. If you are a security-conscious person and would like to be more thoroughly scrutinised, I suggest Stansted Airport business lounge.
The interior: a reasonably impressive distraction
Even today, Parliament is certainly an impressive building. It comprises some of the finest examples of architecture the country has to offer: Gothic, Tudor, and late medieval flourish.
But nobody goes to Parliament without a mission, be it architect enthusiasts or Guy Fawkes. For me, the lure of booze, mini quiches, and a story at the taxpayer’s expense proved too great. Indeed, as I refuse to utilise hospitals, doctors, roads, or public bathrooms on a point of principle, making me a net contributor to government coffers, I was ready for my liquid rebate.
However, with the awards ceremony accessible only via the entrance to the House of Commons, it was readily apparent that our elected representatives rather wish to yank the drunkard’s rope ladder, as it were, by deliberately placing militarised checkpoints after the seat of democracy but before a Stamp Duty-subsidized private members’ bar. (Latterly, what lay beyond this guarded entrance would prove to be a rage-inducing flashpoint for my own private rebellion, dear reader.)
Walking into the octagonal room surrounded by busts and statues of the great men of state, I was informed that I was not allowed through to the function on account of having no accreditation whatsoever and must wait outside the Commons. I found this to be a preposterous infringement on one’s civil liberties, and opted to comply immediately with the armed gentlewoman’s request as politely and as quickly as possible.
Finally, I was able to arrange the proper paperwork, and down I trotted into the Parliamentary bowels, wherein recognisable bastardry tends to coalesce around long dining tables for political intrigue and miniature Cornettos. They were muttering about some sort of… referendum, but as a staunch libertarian resolutely opposed to the act of reading, I had no frame of reference whatsoever for their assorted blatherings, and continued unperturbed through the narrow corridor.
Eventually, I emerged head-first into a gazebo of sorts backing onto the river Thames—the parliamentary sphincter, if you will, through which the great unwashed are routinely funnelled toward all manner of state-sanctioned corporate schmoozefests.
Upon entering the esteemed literary awards ceremony, two things were readily apparent. Firstly, that I had missed the awards. Secondly, that the complimentary wine service was only running for twenty more minutes. I fought my way through a horde of beautiful women and a large number of besuited testes, with seemingly no other constituents in-between.
Arriving at the bar, I addressed the help in the usual and proper manner.
“You boy! May I enquire of you two beakers of Her Majesty’s finest wine?”
The manservant looked at me, immediately exhausted.
“We’ve got rioja.”
“Oh, what luck!”
I made off with my goodies toward what passes as a smoking lounge in today’s grotesquely overbearing civic sphere. Although the Parliamentary terrace has an excellent view of our fair capital, as well as its greatest and grandest estuaries, on which men of commerce and titans of industry have long advanced the cause of civilization… well, it’s hardly a bowl in Benn’s drawing room as the fellow would put it, anyway. But the terrace is a perfectly fine place to whet the whistle, even in bitter March winds.
For Queen and country
My reflections on the tranquility of empire were abruptly pierced by the outbursts of one Joe Public, a thin, slightly moustachioed chap with an admirable military trim and a football wallpaper on the ringer.
“This is all bullshit! These people don’t give a shit about any of us!” he ejaculated.
Curious, I approached Mr. Public.
“My good mate! What ails you?”
He looked up at me. “We’re all stood here eating our fancy fucking canapes when there’s thousands of people out on the street starving to death. We could have used the money from all this to fix things. And they don’t give a shit!”
“And how do you know they don’t give a, um, one of those?”
“I just spoke to some of them, right, I talked to them about the problems my family are going through in hospital, all the problems with the NHS, the homelessness… all these problems that aren’t being fixed that need more attention. They didn’t fucking wanna hear it! They literally don’t care, mate. They’re all useless pricks.” This soliloquy quickly escalated in both volume and profanity, but remained by and large logically coherent.
Emboldened by his colloquial camaraderie, I prepared to deliver a brief but compelling hypothesis as to the sorts of challenges and competing priorities HM Government may be facing at the present moment, whatever they may be, before we were interrupted by a quietly menacing man in a bowtie. On her Majesty’s service, no less.
“Excuse me, sir, may I have a word with you for a minute?”
This salt-of-the-earth chap was led away with a quiet tap on the shoulder. After a few short words, he walked past us towards the exit.
“I’ve got to go. They’ve asked me to leave.”
“Good grief, why!”
“Apparently I have insulted members of the house and I need to leave. Fucking bullshit.”
With that, he was gone.
Tyranny, villainy, winery
Seldom in one’s life has one’s brow raised so unevenly as in that moment. A frank and honest conversation between two gentlemen, perhaps, but a civic expression of the material frustrations every franchisee feels towards our ailing political system. Outrage!
The great men of history flashed past my vision. The monarchs, the emperors, the titans of industry. Civilisations built and destroyed by the ideas in their heads. All along, in towers, in temples, in castles, deploying dark arts of statedom to eradicate those who disagreed. But the mother of Parliaments changed all of that! It introduced liberty and light to the world! Surely, here, of all places, a man was free to speak his mind. But here, the commoners were being ejected by the secret service for… complaining!
My mind now raced with images frozen in time. The glum faces of the servants, the ejected prole, and the mini Cornetto packaging on their trays… This noble house. Could all of it be mere artifice? I sensed a shift deep within myself. Something rumbling.
Seething with rage and acid reflux, I immediately made my exit. I stormed back through the corridor, looking for the appropriate facility into which I might offload my truly righteous indignation.
But as I stormed past several Secretaries of State leaving the dining room for that small wooden door in the wall, I took pause. The path forward was clear.
Upon noting the suspiciously reasonable prices on the bar, I immediately demanded a pint of foaming nut brown ale my tax returns have already paid for. I was swiftly informed that, apparently, this is the People’s Bar, where only representatives of the people may drink, and not disgraced Viscounts.
But you can’t keep a Silversword down, as the old saying goes. Using a crowd of MPs distracted by some landmark parliamentary vote or another, I decided it was time to deploy a faithful skill from my Burmese days on an abandoned bottle of cabernet sauvignon not one-third consumed.
Outside, and under the cover of certain darkness, I produced the bottle from my pocket.
“Omnium rerum principia parva sunt,” I remarked to nobody. And never has wine tasted sweeter.
✯✯✯ / 5
“If Westminster is the Mother of all Parliaments, then where is Daddy?”
HM Parliament has had a truly remarkable run, and as such would make an excellent addition to the National Trust’s already stellar property portfolio. In the meanwhile, I hope parliamentarians will step back and enable the time-honoured forces of unbridled commerce and royal patronage to flourish.