I remember very well the first time I went to the House of Fun. Westminster. The Commons. Parliament. Whatever you want to call it.
Like the fool that I am, I didn’t just nip in and out for the spicy bits. I sat in the chamber all day, every day, for aeons. Actually, maybe an entire three weeks. That’s still longer than many hacks who just turn up for the brawl that is PMQs.
First, I was given a guided tour and told how beautiful it all is. Here is Pugin’s throne. Here is the cupboard where the Queen gets dolled up for the opening of parliament. Here are some servants. Men with swords.
Possibly if I was a tourist from Utah, I might have found this “beautiful”, but the whole place is a cathedral of gloom with frilly bits and mannered decoration. It also smells, if repression has a smell.
Nonetheless, Westminster attracts a certain type. Not just politicians, but the kind of people who like to murmur in corridors and burrow away into its recesses. People who have grown up with, or grow to understand, a set of arbitrary and arcane rules paraded as tradition. Public school people.
Suffice to say that it’s an uncomfortable place for someone like me.
I spent the whole time, and still do, accidentally breaking rules.
One feels like a masked anarchist simply being there as a woman. A man in tights once tried to stop me entering the Press Gallery.
“You can’t go in there with that.”
“That” was a long scarf. Some ancient law, or the presumption that I was going to abseil down on to Michael Fabricant’s head? Who knows?
Several times, I was told off for talking. Near important people. Or for trying to get a sandwich in the wrong place. Or for trying to buy a drink in a bar that is for bishops only. Doh!!
I began to see how anyone cooped up there would have “moments of madness”. There’s something very odd about it all, but I wanted to understand it. So when a lord offered to take me to tea, I leapt at the chance to cross from the green carpet to the red and look at the Lords.
I thought Greville Janner, for it was he, would be explaining how the Lords functioned. Instead, he spent the entire time telling me about a birth he had attended. In gory detail. The birth of his grandchild.
This seemed to me extremely inappropriate. What woman has her own father there while she gives birth? I don’t know if what he told me was true. Mostly I squirmed, as I did not know why on earth he was describing this intimate experience to me.
All I can say now is that over the years, in this House of Rules, I have met several powerful men who have no idea of boundaries. Of any kind. At all.