As you can possibly surmise from my Twitter feed, I’m into politics. So, when the opportunity to see the Queen’s speech arose, I jumped at the chance. The Queen’s speech is akin to the State of the Union address in the US. The Speech and the State of the Union explain the administrations’ agenda for the upcoming year. However, the US address lasts up to two hours, the Queens Speech is up to 15 minutes.
I assumed I could attend the Speech but I was wrong. Researching online, I learned that the general public cannot attend the Speech but it can be viewed online live, via archive on YouTube or the public can read the transcript at the conclusion of the speech. When the Queen is finished, she and other royal family members and personnel, and dignitaries have a procession from Westminster Hall back to Buckingham Palace.
Although I could not attend the Speech, I learned that the House of Commons Members of Parliament (MPs) and the House of Lords members debate the Speech later in the afternoon. I walked from House Guards Avenue to Parliament Square dodging barricades along the way. The walk took me along the Thames, past the London Eye to Parliament Square and to Big Ben. I met many Metropolitan Police Officers along the way.
I knew I ‘d finally reached the entrance to Westminster Hall when I saw a political rally across the street. (insert pictures of political rally). When I reached the entrance, I spoke to a Palace Guard to ensure that I was in the right location and that the MPs would be in session to debate the Queens Speech. The Guard confirmed the location and debate and stated if I’d like to attend to stand in the que at the gate.
Waiting for admission
While waiting in line, I met a lady from London who was also there to attend the debates and who was politically aware. We struck up a conversation about the Parliamentary procedures, my visit to London, a project that she was working on and other things. During our conversation, the line began moving to prepare us for entrance into Westminster Hall. Each of us were asked which Chamber we would like to observe and I stated the House of Commons. Upon entrance, we went through security (similar to airport security) and were led to the entrance of Westminster Hall and proceeded toward the left hand set of stairs.
At the top of the stairs, we exchanged our green gallery cards for an information card where we were to enter our name, address, etc. After we submitted the information card to the attendant, we were instructed that no photography was allowed past that point. We waited until we were allowed to proceed up to the cloak room. The staircase up to the cloak room is narrow and winding.
The cloak room attendants both women and men dress in formal attire akin to tuxedos, black coat with tails and white crisp shirts. At the top of the stairs, we exchanged all electronics (phones, iPads, etc.) for a yellow key tag that identifies the wood shelf where our belongings are stored. After that point, we proceeded to the public gallery.
In the gallery
The gallery seats approximately 100-150 people and the seats resemble pews in a church. The seat backs were high and the seats rather narrow but comfortable. Speakers to hear the proceedings are on each of the last three rows of pews in the Gallery. Approximately 75% of the Public Gallery seating is behind glass. There are two television sets on each side of the Gallery. One television shows the MP that is speaking, the other displays where proceedings are in accordance with the agenda, the time when the agenda item began and the current time. The remaining 25% of the Public Gallery is not behind glass. This part of the Gallery is reserved for special guests or those invited by their MP to attend. Across from the Public Gallery is the press area. In this area, reporters for various media outlets observe the proceedings.
Today was particularly special. It was the first time since 1992 that the UK’s Conservative (Tory) Party has held a majority since 1996. This majority means they only needed to capture 326 out of the 650 seats in the UK Parliament; the Conservative Party captured 331 seats. The Lib Dem party lost 49 seats, the Labour Party lost 24 seats but the Scottish National Party (SNP) gained 50 seats. The SNP pushed for a referendum for Scottish independence from the UK. The day saw many historic milestones and may later prove to be a contentious year for all political parties.
Notable attendees at the debate, in order above, included Nick Clegg (former Deputy Prime Minister), Alex Salmond (Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (International Affairs and Europe)), Theresa May (Home Secretary), George Osborne (Chancellor of the Exchequer and First Secretary of State), Harriet Harman (Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition/interim Labour Party leader), John Bercow (Speaker of the House of Commons) and, of course, Prime Minister David Cameron. Prior to commencing the debate, some MPs were sworn in after which proceedings began.
Queen's Speech debate
There was no pledge of allegiance or anthem, the business of the day simply began. Prior to direct debate, a motion to begin debate on the Queen’s Speech is in the form of a humble address and is put forward by a proposer (long standing MP). The person who seconds the motion, seconder, is a relatively new but considered up & coming MP. The motion and second contains good-natured teasing and humor and serve to flatter each MP’s constituency. After the motions are put forwarded and seconded, debates begin. During the debate, there is a segment for Prime Ministers Questions (PMQs). The party opposite, in this case Labour’s Harriet Harman, poses questions to the Prime Minister on topics ranging from campaign promises to government finance to NHS services. The atmosphere is rowdy, raucous, the MPs point at one another, make faces, boo, applaud and cheer. It is truly fun to watch!! At the conclusion of the PMQs, other MPs ask questions of the Prime Minister about similar or other topics.
What we usually don’t see on television is when the Prime Minister or party opposite leader leaves the Chambers. Today, Prime Minister Cameron remained well into other proceedings on the agenda. The proceedings began at 2:30 pm precisely; Cameron remained until approximately 4:30 pm. The Labour leader had long gone. After Cameron left, I gathered my belongings from the cloak room and went back downstairs. Since I was there, I figured I’d take a chance to see if the House of Lords was in session. I was directed to the attendant’s desk at the House of Lords and, thankfully, the Lords were still in session! They also responded to the Queen's Speech delivered earlier in the day. I scurried to the cloak room, surrendered my electronics and took a seat in the House of Lords.
House of Lords
Earlier in the day, the Queen had given her speech from those very chambers. The Public Gallery in the House of Lords is plusher; red pew-like seats throughout border the walls but provide a view of the chambers below. The Leader of the House of Lords and her deputies sit in the middle of the chambers on an ottoman (Woolsack) to facilitate the proceedings. The Public Gallery is not behind a glass but televisions are at both ends of the Gallery for easier viewing. I was only able to sit in the House of Lords for 10 minutes before the proceedings adjourned for the day. However, in that brief time, I noticed that the Lords were more subdued and less raucous than the MPs. The chambers were larger (to accommodate the 750-800 Lords) and more ornate.
Overall, the day was fabulous and I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. I'm truly thankful I had the opportunity to participate in such historic events and for the opportunity to experience them first hand!!