Thursday, 10 February 2011

My day at the House of Commons

I was very lucky on Tuesday to have been able to spend the day at the House of Commons and shadow my local MP Elizabeth Truss. The South West Norfolk MP invited me down from Norfolk for the day in my role as reporter at the EDP to get a taste of a day in the life of a MP and I had an excellent day.

My day started after arriving at London Waterloo at around 10.10 and embarking on a lovely stroll on a glorious day along the Thames, past the London Eye, over the bridge and onto Portcullis House. After going through security, I was greeted by one of Ms Truss' aides who led me to the Justice Select Committee, which Ms Truss has been a part of for a couple of months, and where the main item up for discussion was government proposals to cut the amount spent on legal aid by a quarter.

By the time I arrived at 10.30am the meeting was well under way but I did still manage to follow quite a bit of what was said and was quite impressed by Ms Truss who asked several questions at the panel of lawyers. Overall I thought it was a very interesting debate with the Law Society claiming the cuts will mean fewer people will be able to bring cases to court and that the cuts do not address the rest cost drivers in the present system.

The meeting was still going on, albeit winding down, at 11.40am when Ms Truss got off her seat and walked towards the door, which prompted me to do the same. As we walked to the Conservative MPs next meeting at 12pm she informed me she had already been to a breakfast meeting this morning at around 8.30am - I had only just finished eating my breakfast at that time!

The next meeting I was taken to was about the future of FM radio stations which saw Ms Truss join a small group of MPs to put forward their concerns to Broadcast Minister Ed Vaizey about the government's plan for a national switchover from FM to DAB. Ms Truss was there to show her support for West Norfolk radio station KLFM which fears the switchover to digital could spell the end of the station which is yet to migrate onto a digital platform.

Ms Truss told the minister of her concerns if the West Norfolk radio station were to be turned off. The government minister then surprised most in the room by declaring that he feels FM radio stations are "not under threat". He also said the target date for the switchover was 2015 but that it was not set in stone.

Again both Ms Truss and I left the meeting early as the MP had another meeting to attend to but this time I wasn't allowed to sit in on it so I decided it was the right time to have some lunch and with that I contacted the EDP's main man at the House of Commons Chris Fisher who took me around the historic site before showing me around the press gallery and then taking me for a spot of lunch.

It was great to be able to hear stories from Chris about the 30 years he has been based at the House of Commons and I was surprised to discover Chris knew a lot about my old paper Dorking Advertiser and the town it covers.

At around 2pm I was picked up another of Ms Truss' aides from the very nice media restaurant where I had just eaten a Cumberland sausage with potato and we were off again on another long walk to meet with Ms Truss ahead of Treasury Questions at 2.30pm.

I was really looking forward to Treasury Questions as it would be the first time newly-appointed shadow chancellor Ed Balls would go up against Chancellor George Osbourne and there was obvious excitement ahead of this clash around the building. As Ms Truss took up her seat a couple of rows behind Mr Osbourne, I took mine up in the public gallery and was very excited about what I was about to see and it was a great experience to watch Treasury Questions even though quite a lot of what was spoken went straight over my head. The clash between Osbourne and Balls was, however, quite entertaining with Ed saying: "Perhaps the chancellor should have spent less time on the ski slopes of Switzerland and more time in the conference halls of Davos."

On leaving the public gallery at 3.30pm, I was reunited with Ms Truss before going on another long walk back to her office - the first time she was able to visit her office during the day. I was first of all very surprised to see how cramped her office was with four people in there and the views out of the window were rubbish but I guess as a new MP she could hardly expect an office large enough to swing a cat - I wonder if Osbourne or Balls swing cats in their large offices?

After half an hour of talking to me and organising herself, Ms Truss then headed back to the House of Commons again to take up her seat for another debate and it was time for me to call an end to my day at the House of Commons. It was still a lovely day as I walked back to Waterloo and the walk gave me a little time to reflect on my day and what I had learnt from following Ms Truss around for the day.

I concluded that:

• New MPs have tiny offices that are a long walk from anywhere they need to be on a regular basis.

• Having to embark on such long walks must help improve the fitness levels of new MPs like Ms Truss.

• MPs & their aides must be quick walkers and great navigators to get around the House of Commons as their schedules can be very tight and change at the drop of a hat.

• MPs like Elizabeth Truss have very little time during the day to eat, drink or rest but have to be at the top of their game throughout the day - something which must be really tiring and result in a lot of coffee being consumed!

• The food is very good at the House of Commons but not as expensive as you might think.

• George Osbourne likes to ski in Switzerland - apparently!

• Finally don't joke in front of national newspaper journalists that you can find yourself out of the House of Commons alone because "what's the worst that can happen? I get shot?"

As an added bonus here is how I tweeted about my day at the House of Commons:

Tweet Feed excerpts:

On the train heading for a day at the House of Commons with South West Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss - lots of the agenda for today #TrussDay

There is justice select committee, treasury questions and Liz Truss lending her support to KLFM in a meeting with minister Ed Vaizey at 12 #TrussDay

Beautiful day in the capital this morning as I stroll across the Thames heading towards the House of Commons #TrussDay

Lovely view of Big Ben this morning in glorious sunshine & clear blue skies #TrussDay

Very interesting debate in the justice select committee hearing about proposed cuts on legal aid Liz Truss MP leading questions #TrussDay

Ms Truss had been grilling the law society about what savings it thinks can be made from MoJ budget if not legal aid #TrussDay

Interesting meeting about the future of FM radio. Liz Truss put a strong case for KLFM - read about it tomorrow's EDP #TrussDay

Just had lunch with the legend that is Chris Fisher who took me on a quick tour around HoC & Press Gallery #TrussDay

Some cracking stories from EDP's Chris Fisher over a Cumberland sausage and mash potato lunch. What a legend #TrussDay

Thought Ed Balls would've gone at George Osbourne a bit more but I enjoyed my first live Commons debate #TrussDay

Just back at Ms Truss' office. Very cramped for four people & not very exciting views of London but it's a start I guess #TrussDay

Liz Truss has now left me to go back into the House of Commons & I'm now sitting opposite the Sun's Tom Newton Dunn - great! #TrussDay

After having a mini-rant at the computer I was given in the press room I've left the HoC in a search of WiFi so I can file copy #TrussDay

I've seen the Balls V Osbourne clash is everywhere "spending less time skiing on the slopes in Switzerland" was the best quote #TrussDay

Phew! Copy from today's visit to HoC has been sent to the Newsdesk. Not sure if it'll be used **crosses fingers** #TrussDay

I'm so close to getting home (Just pulling out of Cambridge now) it's been a long day but I've loved every minute of it :) #TrussDay

Tweet Feed ends


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