One of the unsung advantages of parliamentary life is the opportunity for some flexibility in the daily routine. I normally spend half an hour each morning with Frederick, my fifteen month old son. Like many forty something first time fathers, the ease with which I have taken to blissful domesticity has been a revelation to family and friends – not to mention myself. Frederick is currently delighting us with his first words and a first flash of rebellion, his favourite expression being a forcefully articulated, ‘Noh!’
The reason for a slightly later start this morning is that I am meeting with the new Chief Executive of CityWest Homes, the organisation that manages Westminster City Council’s 22 000 homes. Their offices sit just behind Buckingham Palace, a location which challenges one of the great misconceptions of my constituency – that I represent only a well-heeled contingent rich enough to live in the centre of London. Along with the Queen, politicians, diplomats, business bosses and celebrities who live in my patch, I also represent many living in social housing as well as rough sleepers and new arrivals such as asylum seekers and migrant workers. This makes for a bulging daily postbag manfully negotiated in the main by my staff.
Next to the City Property Association’s Annual Lunch. Guildhall is packed to the rafters. I sit next to Daniel Franklin, the Economist’s Executive Editor, and we wonder whether the high attendance is a good sign or an indication that the property world has nothing better to do than enjoy a boozy lunch. In central London at least, there seems to have been a small uplift from the devalued pound. Retailers in Regent’s Street were similarly upbeat at a recent AGM I attended – the Euro’s strength has seen the Germans become the biggest group of tourists to Britain and they are, for now, compensating for the drop off in visitors from the USA.
Back to parliament for the Procedure Committee. Unfortunately it clashes with the Opposition Day debate on business rates, for which I had jotted a contribution. The planned rate rise has become a big issue in a constituency where a million people come to work each day. The SMEs that provide a portion of that employment fear a rate increase could prove the last straw.
By 6.58pm I am waiting in the Aye Lobby in black tie. Hoping to make a speedy exit after the division, I am spied by Alan Duncan. Realising I am heading off to another City dinner, he confides he has forsaken alcohol for Lent. For my part, I reckon it’s quite an achievement to give it up for one day – to my relief, Michael Gove, standing nearby, agrees!
The District Line speeds me to the splendour of Draper’s Hall, one of the grandest City Livery Halls. It is one of the few such halls entirely unscathed by the Luftwaffe and dates back to the 1880s. Since my election, this constituency has charmed and fascinated me into becoming a London history fanatic. I sit next to someone who declares, ‘We’ve met before’. Normally I am good on names and faces but I haven’t a clue who this chap is. It transpires he was on the selection committee for the Eddisbury by-election almost ten years ago when I lost out in the final to Stephen O’Brien. It brings back to mind the grim experience that most of us here have faced, traipsing around the country looking for a seat. As luck would have it I ended up here in the most central of constituencies!
As the Member for the City of London, Treasury questions is always a must and I stoke the fires on the combustible Equitable Life issue. I later dart to Millbank for a pre-record of Radio 4’s Week in Westminster. Taking a slightly different angle on the parliamentary expenses issue, the programme interview me as the most central London Member and John Thurso whose Highland seat is about as far away from the Capital as is possible.
I return to parliament for a meeting with Prof. Stephen Smith who is masterminding the merger between two of my local hospitals. Amidst talk of paediatric and stroke services, I check progress on the new Imperial Trust’s plans to install Britain’s first cancer-zapping particle beam.
Back in the office, I pen some ideas for a few articles and discuss my first draft of this diary piece with my researcher. She thinks I talk too much about Frederick – I agree to tone down the doting! By 7o’clock on a Thursday there is more atmosphere in a cemetery than there is in Portcullis House. However the day is not quite finished as I have my local Conservative Association’s executive here. Activists are pretty upbeat about political prospects but everyone has to be on red alert for perhaps a fourteen month campaign. With an abundance of young and involved members, three of our local councillors are standing in the European elections this year.
Spoilt for choice though I am, my favourite building in the constituency is St Paul’s Cathedral. I am invited to lunch at the Chapter House and discuss the programme of recent works that have been co-ordinated by the Dean, Graeme Knowles, and his team. The real treat of the day is to be taken up to some of the Cathedral’s best kept secrets, the jewel in the crown being a spectacular ecclesiastical research library with an original John Tyndale translation of the Bible dating back to 1524.
Next port of call is the Theatres Trust on Charing Cross Road. Most of theatreland lies within my constituency and it is great to catch up with long-standing Chief Executive, Mhora Samuel, and ebullient new recruit, Rob Dickens. Rob recently took over as Chairman after a lifetime in the music business, most recently with Warner Bros. We soon begin trading obscure facts about 60s and 70s pop hits. ‘The songs that fail to make number one often make for the most interesting stories – take the Beatles’ Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields’, Rob begins. ‘Kept from the top spot by Englebert Humperdinck’s, ‘Release Me”, I pipe up! If only I could channel this useless information to some more practical use. Mhora steers us back to the matter at hand.
The meeting was set up a few weeks ago when I saw Mhora at the Olivier Awards. This is really my wife, Vicki’s speciality in her work as a theatrical agent but I was delighted to see from afar Derek Jacobi. Whilst a more discerning luvvie might have commended him on his performance in ‘I, Claudius’, I know only his fine narration of CBeebie’s ‘In the Night Garden’. Frederick and I delight in his silken tones as he asks, ‘Who’s not in bed? Iggle Piggle’s not in bed’.
Interest in MPs’ expenses has exploded again and the Sunday papers are engorged with further scandal. With my head above the parapet after banging on about this issue for several years, I am called to do interviews with BBC and Sky News.
I get waylaid by further media requests as the expenses furore rolls on and appear on BBC2’s Daily Politics at midday. In between I take our new work experience student for coffee and catch up on constituency work. Housing and immigration problems normally far outweigh all other correspondence. However, having sent out my Annual Report only a couple of weeks ago, we are now inundated with all sorts of other concerns (including numerous comments from colleagues!). Having one’s constituents literally on the doorstep often adds spice – police recently accosted a lady who had turned up in Central Lobby armed with a knife that had been embedded in a muffin, demanding to see me!
Later I pop into the Kensington Gardens AGM before a pleasant dinner at Shepherd’s in Marsham Street at a seminar hosted by Ofcom. The day finishes at 10.30pm with another interview on expenses, this time with Ian Collins at TalkSport.
First thing it’s hard hats and vertigo time as I attend the spectacular topping out ceremony of Candy and Candy’s One Hyde Park development. After a session in the Chamber to see the early exchanges in the economy debate and time catching up in the office, I return home to change – this time white tie. Tonight is the State Dinner for the President of Mexico hosted by the Corporation of London and I attend as the City’s MP. It is one of many highly policed events in the constituency as part of the G20 jamboree and the City is in war-like mode as the Square Mile prepares for lock down in anticipation of tomorrow’s ‘Financial Fools Day’ protests.
Before heading off to the splendour of the Guildhall, I have twenty minutes to give the darling son and heir his bedtime bottle. As he drifts off, there is still a chance for one last vox pop –
‘So, Frederick, are you in favour of Gordon Brown’s fiscal stimulus package?’
Vigorous shaking of the head. ‘Noh!’.
Well, I suppose he will be paying for it in the decades ahead…