Letters from Westminster: What’s it like inside Westminster?

In which we ask Parliamentary Researcher Robbie Lammas to give us the view from Westminster.

The workings of Parliament can often be seen as a mystery; indeed, they remain so for many MPs and Researchers who work inside it. The recent events of late have seen rare historic conventions and procedures such as the Humble Address for a Return, a Censure Motion, a Vote of No Confidence, attempts to unpick Standing Orders & to override the Government’s prerogative over debate tabling, all return. Each has its own archaic formalities but make no mistake, each has extraordinary power to shape our nation.

Navigating these historic procedures, along with following the news, public debate, social media, drawing from numerous reports, papers and articles, liaising with the press, writing speeches and making the occasional pot of tea is the job of a Parliamentary Researcher. I never thought I would be lucky enough to become one, often tucked away in a small office within the maze of buildings old and new that is our precious Palace of Westminster, but here I am and I love it.

Parliamentary offices are not palatial as people may think, not even with personal additions such a tea pots. They are often dimly lit, with a single modest Victorian single pain window that struggles to let in enough light through the shatter proof netting, installed as part of bomb precautions – a sign of our times. There’s a small television on the wall that squeaks away quietly throughout the day alerting my sub-conscious to any potential policy developments in the Chamber. I am surrounded by letters to and from constituents, think tanks, lobby groups and stakeholders. Some are drafted on behalf of constituents to be sent to the relevant Minister, others are painstakingly researched as to ensure the best possible reply to questions asked of my Member – but all are satisfyingly printed on official portcullis headed mustard paper. The same style as has carried messages that has shaped our society for hundreds of years. Indeed, when I am tucked away in this old office, even the air smells Parliamentary.

Working in Parliament has been a dream of mine since the age of 13. This was the same age I first visited Egypt with my family and discovered I was already some 3 years older than when King Tutankhamun ascended to the throne. With a typically autistic ‘black & white’ view of the world, my political ambitions grew with age in accordance with my increasing frustration at being unable to change my environment in-line to my beliefs. Having difficulty with social interaction, communication and imagination, I took a while to realise that there were appropriate outlets for me to effect change. I became obsessed with the school council, then Medway Youth Parliament and the rest followed. The communication skills I originally lacked were developed by my schools SENCO Mrs Lyn Levy and slowly grew to match my passion. I went from a shy socially inept boy to the School Captain. Such a credit to the support I was afforded.

Today I have worked myself into the rare position of being close enough to Parliament to gain a sense of what is really going. This is both a privilege and an eye-opener to things you may not want to see. What is for certain is that we live in a truly thriving democracy, we have an excellent uncodified constitution that allows the will of the people to change things and it is all focused inside a Palace in Westminster, filled with experts, librarians and Clarks all able to assist or inform a member at a drop of the hat. But this thriving palace for the people is only as good as the quality of the representatives that are elected to it.

Parliamentary procedures are used and abused for political games. Often votes are less about a definitive position on an issue, but more like a chapter in a longer story to reach the desired policy direction. What is whispered in the corridors can matter more than spoken aloud in the theatre of discourse.

It is my hope through this series of Letters from Westminster with The Political Medway that I can shine light on this often-misunderstood place. Throughout this series I am open to suggestions and questions. My hope is that this series can be interactive. Please feel free to email me: robbielammas@hotmail.co.uk.

Robbie Lammas is a Senior Parliamentary Researcher working for Conservative MPs in Westminster. He is a 2019 Conservative Medway Council candidate in Luton and Wayfield. He holds a first-class degree in Geography, Politics and International Relations from Royal Holloway University and resides in Medway. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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