As I sat under the chimes of Big Ben I considered what a unique experience this was, a week work experience at Westminster. There are not many people that can say they have walked ‘the corridors of power’ and it wasn’t anything to do with luck or chance or an election that got me here.
Why Do Work Experience At Westminster?
As a Modern Studies teacher (politics and current affairs) it is expected that I have knowledge about political procedures and because I studied Social Policy at university I lacked some of that knowledge. Like every good student should – I filled that learning gap and arranged work experience at Westminster with my school’s local Member of Parliament (MP), Thomas Docherty (Labour). Luckily for me, I have a good friend (Kaci) who was willing to put me up for the week or it would have been an expensive voluntary work experience.
Shock in St Mary’s Undercroft’s Cupboard…
On day one, Stephen, Thomas’s research assistant greeted me and took me for coffee at Portcullis House. This is the best place for politician watching, Nicholas Soames (Winston Churchill’s grandson) and Jo Johnson (Boris’s brother) sauntered by. The morning was wrapped up with a tour of Westminster, I’ve never seen so much green (House of Commons) or red (House of Lords) leather in my life. Did you know that Michael Jackson asked to buy the gold features in the House of Lords (apparently)? The highlight of the day was seeing the plaque which celebrates Emily Davison (suffragette and hero) which Labour MP Tony Benn illegally put up in the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft’s broom cupboard! That, and sitting in Angela Eagle’s (shadow) cabinet office with Thomas as they discussed strategy regarding the House of Lords reform as the TV displayed a Lord being interviewed by the BBC in the Parliament lobby below us. Surreal!
Sitting With Giants
It was an exciting time to be in Parliament as The Commons’ timetable was saturated by The House of Lords reform debate. As Thomas’s guest I was granted permission to sit ‘in front of the glass’ in The Chamber, normal Joe Bloggs’ view the debate from behind. During the debate, I heard Nick Clegg, (then) Deputy Prime Minister, speak on behalf of the Coalition Government and sat across from Baroness (Betty) Boothroyd, another great in the fight for women in politics – the first (and only) female Speaker of the House!
Committees, Collaboration, & Constituents
Although it is what we see on the telly, Westminster is not solely about debate. Much of the work completed by MPs and Lords is in committees. At this time, Thomas was part of the Defence (Select) Committee and I observed the committee question the then Defence Cabinet Minister, Philip Hammond (soon to be Foreign Minister) about army equipment; the effects on dockyards post Scotland’s referendum on independence and finance. I also watched Thomas in action during a Backbench Business Committee meeting where he requested floor time for a debate on the cost of supermarket milk which is having detrimental effects on the farming industry. Although party politics plays a large part of what goes on at Westminster, I did see collaborative work through the All Party Parliamentary Disability Group. The MPs discussed the short and long-term problems that families with children who have disabilities face, taking notes as these witnesses were given a voice. It was tough to listen to but that’s what MPs are there to do – represent their constituents and I saw a wealth of evidence of this during my week work experience at Westminster.
How to apply for work experience at Westminster
I had met with the school’s MP on a few occasions before I asked to spend time at his office in London but that should not stop you from applying for voluntary work, make that call! You can find out who your local MP is here.
Heading to The Big Smoke? Check out these free attractions in London, it’s an expensive city so every penny counts!
Have you travelled for work experience? Would you?