21 March 2013

A Day In The Houses Of Parliament

Claude Monet's The Houses of Parliament, Sunset (1903)

A gorgeous Gothic landmark with a famous Clock Tower,
I was really excited to see inside the Palace of Westminster

Once a royal medieval palace and now a major center of politics,
this building holds a lot of dramatic history
including the unsuccessful Gunpowder Plot in 1605,
a gruesome ending for Oliver Cromwell in 1661,
a major fire in 1834,
and many bombings during World War II

The interior of the Houses Of Parliament
is just as stunning as its exterior

After my tour, I was inspired to contact my local Member of Parliament (MP)
to request tickets for Question Time

Every Wednesday for thirty minutes,
MPs fire questions at the Prime Minister in the House of Commons

Wow - we have nothing like this in the US

Reminding me of a schoolyard,
fingers are pointed,
the Speaker of the House yells 'Order!'
gasps, cheers and outbursts come from all political parties
in response to David Cameron's answers

And they do it every week

Ranging from housing benefits to Alzheimers to poaching in Africa to Syria,
it made me realize how numerous and vast the issues are
and that these are mere mortals working on the state of affairs
within the same 24 hours the rest of us have

Interestingly, David Cameron often referred to other politicians by saying,
'As my friend ___ rightly said...'
which made me realize

these (mostly) men have been groomed to be politicians from an early age,
often attending the same boarding schools and universities
(Oxford or Cambridge)

Which means, there is not a huge diversity in upbringing
and it means they have known each other a long time
perhaps with old lunchroom grudges
or as dorm room buddies

It made me appreciate the diversity of our US politicians,
many whom have not met each other until their first day on Capitol Hill
and cover a wide scope of professional backgrounds

I was very impressed how solid David Cameron was throughout Question Time
He seemed very prepared and did not seem flustered by the jeers

It would be fascinating to see American politicians grilled the same way
in such a format

While the debates were lively, I'm not sure how much was accomplished
as they moved to the next topic quickly

it was a huge privilege to see
including the three gentlemen wearing old-fashioned white wigs :)

For anyone interested in history or politics,
the Houses of Parliament tour is a must see

If you are looking for amazing verbal jousting and quick comebacks,
Question Time is a must do

Images 2-4 via Parliament website
(A non-sponsored post)


jane said...

I have been following your blog for a while - always very interesting. Just had to correct one misconception (easy to see why), when the prime minister or any other M.P. says 'my honourable friend' he does not mean they are literally friends, they can be bitter rivals - its parliamentary protocol. They are not allowed to refer to each other by name,so 'My friend' or 'my honourable friend' is meant to be a way to tone down heated debates and stop them calling each other rude names. Impressed that you have visited parliament, as a native brit it puts me to shame!

Happy Homemaker UK said...

Ah ha! I always love learning from readers - thanks for taking the time to let me know.

Gesci said...

So interesting! I really wanted to tour Parliament (and Big Ben!) but we didn't get to it whilst living there. Hopefully we get back, though.
The Question Time sounds fascination to observe! I sat in on a couple of Congressional committee meetings during a high school trip to DC, and one got into a debate- it was like ping pong!

Iota said...

I used to be in the Civil Service. When it was "my" minister's question time, I used to sit in the box that you probably didn't notice (behind and to the left of the Speaker's chair, as you look at it). It always, always gave me a buzz. I never got used to being there, but was always very aware of a sense of privilege.

Good for you, taking the time and trouble to visit.

Question Time, whether the Prime Minister, or another minister, is very much a set piece. It's an opportunity for a bit of theatre, and a chance for an MP to get a subject aired - briefly. The real business of government happens in debates and select committees. Question time makes the politicians immediately answerable to their colleagues and the opposition, and I'm sure it keeps them on their toes, but it's not where the real work is done.

The questions are picked in advance, and notified to the minister in question. So he/she has time to prepare - and of course Minister's Questions are absolutely top priority for the Civil Service department when they come in (and actually, can be very time-consuming and detract from other important work!). The ministers are briefed on each question, though it's not easy to predict what the follow-up questions are going to be.

Prime Minister's Questions used to be twice a week. Tony Blair cut it down to once a week.

Happy Homemaker UK said...

Wow, Iota, lucky me to have you as a reader! Thanks for passing along and providing more details :)

Susan Kane said...

Our cable tv provider used to show The HP in session, and there were some rowdy discussions. Love your perspectives on life in England.

Jeanie said...

This was one of those things that we didn't have time to do. Just the exterior was beautiful but I was itching to see the question period. I wish we'd done the inside tour! Thanks for posting this -- I'll put it in my reminder box for a (someday) next time!

~Gardener on Sherlock Street said...

Very interesting. There are some in our government who also 'grew up together.' Always interesting when someone finds the connections. Thanks for sharing the tour and impressions.

Privet and Holly said...

How exciting! We toured
Parliament on a Saturday,
but I would have loved to
sit in on an actual open
session, It is a beautiful
and historic setting for law
makers. I do agree with
you, however ~ I like the
diversity of the US system!

xo Suzanne

Inside a British Mum's Kitchen said...

How wonderful!! what an incredible experience and how great of you to take advantage of this and go and see how things work!! I always get goosebumps driving by Big Ben and Houses of Parliment!
Mary x

Gina said...

Very interesting. I am so enjoying learning things through blogs. It is such an amazing building and on more than one occasion while walking by I have wondered what is going on inside. It looks to be as incredible inside as outside.

Rosemary said...

I enjoyed reading your impressions and was intending to mention the wording used by the MPs "my friend" or "my honourable friend" but notice that Jane has beaten me to it.

Gillian said...

How cool that you got tickets to this!! I always try to listen to it on the radio if I can. It usually sounds like a noisy and lively atmosphere. I'm not sure what exactly is achieves but it's good to see those in charge getting a good grilling from their peers and being challenged on their policies.

But sadly you are right about the lack of diversity in UK politics. It's improving, but not enough, and it's still a bit of an old boys club.

As usual a really interesting post.

Gillian x

Nieves said...

I visited The Houses of Parliament a long time ago and to read your post have reminded me of it. Thanks for the post and kindest regards Laura,

Ann said...

That is an interesting read
coupled with interesting pics.
Thanks for sharing.

Ana Isabel Navarro said...

Hello! It´s a very interesting entry for me.
I have only seen this Tour in picture. I didn´t know what happened inside.
See you soon!

PURA VIDA said...

so incredible to me!

Ali said...

We spent the Easter weekend in London and I saw Big Ben and the parliament buildings up close for the first time. Wow! is all I can say. Isn't it odd that they only do tours by appointment though. LOL!

Ali x