My year in Westminster

Ben Fox
Ben Fox

In May this year, I left the buzzing news room of the Moorlander in Chagford to start on a new journey in the heart of London:  Westminster.

As a history graduate, politics-lover and
journalist, I felt compelled to go where the action is and had applied to work for a number of MPs (in a non-party position, I hasten to add!)

My first day could have easily been the opening scenes to a British cinema film. I completely
underestimated how long it would take for the tube to get me from Morden in South London to
Westminster. Finally arriving, half an hour late, and jogging around Parliament Square like a
madman to find the entrance to the Palace of
Westminster that I needed, to say I felt like Stuart Little would be an understatement.

Arriving, looking like I had just gone several rounds with a hedge, I walked to meet my colleague through Westminster Hall, passing over the places where the Queen Mother and Winston Churchill had lain in-state, and it all suddenly became worth it. I met my colleague in Central Lobby, a place I had only ever previously seen on the news or talked about in books. To my left: the House of Commons. To my right: the House of Lords. At no other point in my life had I felt history grab me like it did that day.

For some people my age, their idea of a celebrity is those that they see on Love Island. For me – someone who watches BBC Parliament and Politics Live for fun – it is very different. So, sat at lunch on my first day, and seeing Robert Peston, Hilary Benn and Boris Johnson just casually walking around engaged in their respective roles in British politics, I was like a kid at Christmas. Since then, Mr Benn has cut in front of me in the lunch cue. All is forgiven now, but we needn’t talk about that.

I am allowed to bring three people to Parliament but have been told by a friend to not act like his dad when he brought him. In his case, having his dad shouting “IT’S BORIS!!” and pointing from about five foot away was not the parliamentary cordialness he was hoping for from his guests.
nine months on, the novelty still remains. Walking to my desk past the statues of Disraeli and Lloyd George, or through the outer gardens of the
Speaker’s residence, still fills me with a little glow.
The thing that will continue to stick with me though is, in my own small way, being involved in probably the biggest overhaul of British politics since the Second World War: Brexit.

I have been present in the House during some of the most febrile days that Westminster will probably oversee. Britain may never have this kind of change to its politics again in my lifetime. While only working in a Parliamentary Office, to say I was there is how I imagine it must have felt to be present the day the NHS was created or when war was declared on Iraq.

The last month or so has been particularly interesting. Brexit consumes all now. Every inch of politics now has a caveat added. It follows you around.

The Palace of Westminster has been gripped by an atmosphere that has rarely been seen in the history of British politics. It doesn’t leave you. As soon as you step outside, you are greeted by protestors of all kinds. One day, I walked out of the main gates, with my pass still around my neck, to be greeted by: “Are we out yet?” I didn’t have an answer for him.
On a personal note: the House of Commons recently voted on a motion of No Confidence in the Government. The politics behind this is irrelevant. Whether you think it was justified or not is for another day. However, it is important to remember that there are people that are profoundly affected by these kinds of decisions. Had the Government fallen and an election occurred, those of us who work for MPs would have our lives thrown up into the air. Especially for those in marginal seats. We aren’t necessarily political. We are there to help constituents of all kinds.

We don’t have any say in the party politics of it all. But if an MP lost their seat, or resigned, their staff would instantly be out of a job. My current Chief of Staff had this happen to her: a woman with a house to pay for, a young daughter etc.
Politics can’t be conducted based on things like this. We know the risks when we choose to work in politics. But it really brings it to the fore when you are one of those people.

On a personal level: I wouldn’t change a thing. What I am most proud of though is being able to add ‘The Moorlander’s Man in Westminster’ to my list of titles!