Parliament Day Two –
I woke up today extremely tired. I don’t know if it wasn’t a very restful night’s sleep for me, or if my run yesterday was more intense then I remember, but it just seemed as though my whole body was tired. On days like today back in the states, I would usually hit the snooze but two or ten times, but today it was relatively easy to get out of bed. I was really pleased at how yesterday went, so I was excited to get back to the office today and get my hands dirty.
I was at the office by 930 and ready to go, but first I had coffee with D. We made small talk about our nights, she showed me where to pick up all sorts of useful information about Parliamentary proceedings, and we meandered back to the office. She set me up with a computer and desk to work at, then chatted about what the typical day in the office looks like. We also talked a bit about Parliamentary tactics for backbenchers and opposition MPs and ways in which Plaid Cymru makes their (our?) voice heard. We were nearly an hour into the conversation when Elfyn (MP) and the party press officer E came into the office and asked me if I wanted to attend a press conference they were giving. Of course I would! D was more than happy to get back to work, so I ventured off to meet the Welsh Press (it’s a small contingent.) The two reporters who were at the press conference (meeting? How many reporters does it take to be a conference?) were nice enough, and one seemed to be one of those eternally happy people who find joy in everything (though I am told he writes quite nasty articles). The conversation ranged from corporate tax rates throughout the UK to prison term discounting for those who plead guilty, to the future of the leadership of Plaid Cymru (our current leader is planning to step down in the next few years). It was an interesting and informative session for me to attend, though I confess I was a bit lost when BBC Wales turned up and conducted an interview in Welsh.
After the interview I sat down to tea with Elfyn and E. We talked a little bit about Plaid’s press strategy (think scatter gun). Anywhere there is an opening to inject themselves into the debate, they will. Tea was brief as there was work to be done, including Prime Minister’s Questions.
For those of you who haven’t yet delved into the British political system, PMQ’s are perhaps the most entertaining and important time of the week. For half an hour every Wednesday, the Prime Minister must answer questions from MPs about any range of topics. It can be a very effective tool for maintaining transparency if used correctly. Unfortunately for the current Opposition, their leader Ed Milliband is highly ineffective. Almost every time he asks David Cameron a question, Cameron makes Milliband look like an uninformed fool. Today was perhaps Milliband’s worse showing in recent memory. At one point Cameron used the policies of Milliband’s party to answer his question, effectively showing that Milliband can’t lead his own party, let alone the United Kingdom.
Back in the office, R gave me my first task: RSVP for two of our MPs to attend a meeting with the American ambassador in July. After that, I was to help D prepare a briefing for Jonathan, who was to attend a debate later in the day regarding the current Government’s position towards women. But first, it was off to lunch with Elfyn, Jonathan, and E. The food in Portcullis is not bad, but it’s not very good either – at least it is inexpensive. Apparently the food was a lot better just a little while ago, but the ongoing expenses scandal (where MPs have gotten in serious trouble for claiming illegitimate expenses – one of the hottest and most serious political topics in the last few years here), as well as the current austerity of the Government, has meant the food quality has gone down.
After lunch I spent a few hours completing my tasks and doing general research on the party’s positions and recent activities. After a couple of hours of playing catch-up, Jonathan and E asked if I wanted to go with them to meet the Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond. Of course I would! Jonathan had to stop off at the chamber to vote, so E and I paused briefly in the atrium of Portcullis – just as Ed Milliband came walking in. I’ll be honest, he looked like a lost, scared little child who wasn’t quite sure what came next – exactly how he should feel after his performance at PMQ’s. I was amused – I forgot to mention that yesterday, during our conversation with the MSNBC reporter, David Cameron and Nick Clegg (deputy Prime Minister) walked right behind me. I wish someone had said something!
We set off to meet FM Alex – it was raining, so I am glad I had brought my umbrella. We waited outside Westminster Palace for a bit, though Alex didn’t show. Apparently he got tied up at a press conference, so we headed back to Portcullis. It was a bit disappointing to miss out on meeting the Scottish FM, but considering I went into the day without any thought of meeting him I couldn’t be too disappointed.
Back at Portcullis, I went to collect my pass. I had been assured by our program director that all the requisite paperwork was ready and waiting for me – though it wasn’t. At this point all I needed to proof of my address here in the UK. Jonathan stepped in and offered to write a brief letter and sign witness, which did the trick. Though we had to go back to the office, and then back to the pass office to do so, I finally collected my pass – and just in time! We were then headed to meet with the Scottish National Party for a strategy session.
Being that Plaid Cymru has such a small representation in Westminster, and that they are a nationalist party, they find a natural ally in the Scottish National Party, who similarly has a small representation at Westminster. For that reason, the two parties try to coordinate their activities within Parliament, so as to be most effective. What makes this an especially interesting time is that in the Scottish National elections, the SNP just won a majority in the Scottish Parliament – something that was said to be impossible. At the same time, Plaid suffered a drubbing at the poles, losing control of the Welsh Assembly, though they did win a referendum granting more powers to the Welsh Assembly.
Though I sat on the sidelines for this meeting, it was interesting to see strategy in action. I’ve had the good fortune to study with a few professors in the states who have illuminated the vague practice of strategy formation for me, and so seeing the practical application side of the theory I’ve learned has been a wonderful experience.
After meeting with the Scots, my day was complete. It was a full day, it was tiring, but it was good in so many ways. I boarded the tube for the ride back home, completely exhausted but completely content. I’ve spent the last few hours doing some research, reading a bit, and of course catching up on my blogging. It’s now almost midnight, but tomorrow promises to be a great day. Until then.
Today’s political insight: (From Elfyn) Creative strategy and creative leadership is not just something that is nice to talk about – it is necessary to survive. In a minority position, one must provide creative answers. If not, you acquiesce to the majority.