Today was an exciting day, for we visited the Houses of Parliament and had MP Dennis Skinner as our ‘tour guide’! The visit started out with a security check upon entering the building, and after we were individually photographed, we were given printed photo IDs to wear around our necks for the remainder of the tour.
The tour began in Westminster Hall, the oldest building in Parliament “and almost the only part of the ancient Palace of Westminster which survives in almost its original form”. In the Hall we met MP Dennis Skinner, a British Labour Party politician who has been a Member of of Parliament (MP) for Bolsover since 1970, hence his nickname ‘the Beast of Bolsover’. According to Wikipedia, Skinner is known for “his left-wing views, acid tongue, and for never missing a Commons session”.
The Houses of Parliament are obviously quite secure locations, which unfortunately meant no photography (and videography) during the rest of the tour. The rooms were quite interesting, and the chambers where they held sessions were quite similar: both had leather seats (red for House of Lords, green for House of Commons), with two separate rooms for the yes/no votes. One major difference is the presence of the queen’s throne in the House of Lords – the reigning monarch is traditionally not allowed to enter the House of Commons, so they would have to send a messenger to announce their entrance beforehand. Also, the House of Lords vote by “content”/”not content”, while the House of Commons stuck to the more common “yay”/”nay”.
The only place we were allowed to take photos was the outside patio/balcony cafe for Parliament members. The weather was pretty nice so I was able to take a good photo of the London Eye. Dennis wanted to show us the hiding place of Emily Davison, one of the famous suffragettes, but unfortunately St. Mary Undercroft Chapel was being renovated. I was able to sneak a few photos during our Q&A session in one of the small meeting rooms, though!
The tour ended back in Westminster Hall, and Dennis was nice enough to stay and answer the rest of our questions. It was quite funny because another tour group walked up right behind us and the tour guide noticed ‘the Dennis Skinner’, so he proceeded to ask if anyone in the group knew which famous politician was standing a mere two feet away. Like typical tourists, many proceeded to crane their heads in order to take a peek.
The tour was probably one of my favorites, because we actually interacted with a person who is part of the current history of the location. Dennis was wonderful in answering all our questions, and his sarcastic humor and blunt attitude made the tour more interesting than I thought it would be. I wish we had time to take him up on his offer of sitting in on one of the Parliament sessions, but unfortunately that will just have to be another item on my bucket list.