“Ed,” sang the high pitched female voice emerging briskly from the second set of security gates which separated the public from the tree-lined interior of Portcullis House. “Anyone for Ed… Miliband?” she continued, her voice starting sing-song, but getting steadily flatter as her request barely raised a glance from the hot, gathered throng.
This was Wednesday. I had grudgingly removed my shoes and belt to pass through the airport-style security and enter the open-plan holding pen at the Palace of Westminster’s more modern annexe. Here I had dutifully handed in my name and joined the crowds of waiting guests who, like me, all needed collecting by the aides, secretaries and interns who busily swept in and out, announcing their respective political personages and chaperoning guests into the seat of power.
“Ed Miliband,” called the girl, by now sadly, as she pushed her way through the bored yet expectant herd: “Ed Milieeeeeband…”
I had been invited to a ‘Bee Conservation Day in Parliament’, to be held somewhere off Westminster Hall. Dear Partisans, as you know I am extremely passionate about the subject of bee conservation and a day dedicated to just that, sounded a marvellous thing. However, it was already disgustingly sticky, and having been stuck in that weird hinterland for twenty minutes, I was starting to regret my decision to attend.
Around me were tightly packed grey suits. Yet beyond the transparent security gate was the vast diamond-domed glass ceiling, copious marble and enviable wide open space that makes this building so famous. “Miliband?” yelled the girl in patent disbelief as, at last, a suited man lethargically separated himself from the crowd to claim her. The other sweaty waiting guests bare blinked an eyelid though… and the clock kept on ticking on.
Ed may be dull but he leads the opposition,
Is this the fate of a career politician?
In days of the past chancers might have swarmed,
The reaction to Ed: they’re just slightly bored.
Thankfully it was at this point that my own young chaperone arrived and together we swiftly passed the imposing glass security gates and ventured, via an underground passage and several more security points, into the magnificent old Westminster Hall. The intern pointed me up a narrow staircase towards the venue for my bee event. However, as bizarrely, I had never been here before, instead I remained motionless and transfixed.
This was the vaulted 900-year old space where Sir Thomas Moore was condemned to death on 1st July 1535. It was here that Guy Fawkes and King Charles I were tried. Inside my head, I could feel my old friend the inner bee start to buzz. He was waggling behind the walls of the cranium, beating gossamer wings against my eardrum.
This was arguably one of the most historical, political spaces in Europe, yet a mere ten minutes earlier, the chance to sneak a meeting with our own modern leader of the opposition hadn’t even raised a nod, let alone a spit or a yodel. The bee was buzzing insistently now and beginning to drive me forward. I could feel myself marching down the great hallway further into the bowels of Westminster.
There were groups of tourists everywhere. I pushed my way through; jostling past some security guards at the end of the room, turning left and making my way deeper into the corridors of power. Here the tourists were still thick and plentiful, but I was oblivious, striding ahead until I reached a broad axis with the House of Commons on the left and House of Lords on the right.
I was at a crossroads, but as the security people in either direction looked rather serious, I made a split-second decision to append myself onto a pack of suited types with briefcases, and steamed straight ahead. Passing quickly down a short flight of stairs, I looked to be on track for the House of Commons dining room: the walls were green, the air smelt of gravy and there was an extremely school dinners vibe about the place.
Suddenly I felt claustrophobic. My nerve had gone. The bee let out a faint plaintive whimper and deserted me. I turned tail and pelted back the way I came. At breakneck speed, almost tripping over my own feet, I more or less ran through Westminster Hall and burst out into the bright sunshine. Sweat dripped from my brow – I had lost all interest in attending the ‘Bee Conservation’ event I had come for. There are, Partisans, bigger and more important ways to protect the bee.
As getting out was far easier than getting in, it wasn’t long before I was sitting in the bright sunshine of Abington Street Gardens, collecting my thoughts. For months I have been talking about how my duty is to be part of a cutting edge, opposing political movement. For months I have done nothing concrete to make this happen. Yet, one close-up glance of the existing British system has convinced me I must take action.
Dear Partisans, next time I write, I will have done something monumental. You wait and see.