The Palace is notable for being eerily silent. There are a few members of staff around – maintenance and security and some administrative staff. I have also bumped into two peers. (One reported that she had seen other members during the day.) However, MPs who sat in the last Parliament have been barred since 5.00 p.m. on Monday, other than for the purpose of coming in to collect mail and even that will not be possible after Sunday. Staff who worked for MPs are also excluded.
Some eating outlets remain open, though after 5.00 p.m. the only ones operating are the Despatch cafe bar in Portcullis House (pictured) and Moncrieff’s cafe in the reporters’ building behind the Commons. In the interests of writing this post, I decided to use both.
The area at the Despatch Box looked very much as it appears in the picture. What is normally a bustling area – staff, members and visitors occupying most or all of the tables, with a queue at the Despatch Box – was almost deserted. There were four members of the security staff at one table on the other side of the Atrium and that was it. A few people walked by during the time I was having my cup of tea, but otherwise it was notable for its emptiness.
Likewise, in Moncrieff’s cafe. The cafe is at the top of the building. I like taking the stairs because the walls are lined with political cartoons . The cafe itself was empty apart from three (I presume) journalists, busy chatting and ignoring Sky News being broadcast on the screen.
The advantage for me is that I get to enjoy the sheer beauty of the Palace. It also provides an opportunity to explore the place. I have been studying Parliament for more than thirty years and been a member of the Lords for eleven-and-a-half years, but there are still parts of the Palace with which I am not that familiar. There are two to three miles of corridor and more than 200 staircases. (I’m taking the figure I have been given as accurate – I haven’t attempted a count!) It is the staircases in particular that I have not fully explored to see where they lead. I like to think, though, that my knowledge of the geography is somewhat better than many MPs. Some, even of very long standing, have problems in finding certain meeting rooms in the House of Lords.