What?! A positive story about a politician? Yes! I happen to live in a rare constituency in South London where we have an active local MP who spends time in her community and appears to be in service to her constituents, not herself. This seems like such a rarity in the hallowed halls of Westminster, which are appearingly populated by a hive of Snollygosters who are all in politics to further their social stature and feed their bank accounts, with no such knowledge of what a scruple is.
Let's go to Westminster!
During my son's last week at school before the summer holidays, he brought home a letter from Siobhain McDonagh, MP for Mitcham and Morden, offering schoolchildren to sign-up for a tour of the Houses of Parliament. I signed myself and my son up for it immediately because I thought that it sounded like a great opportunity, and something fun to do during a seemingly endless six-week holiday period. We got confirmation a couple of weeks later, and both me and my son were really excited.
The 23rd August came round pretty quickly, and we were raring to go. It all started-off really well, my son was really excited because he loves trains and was pumped to be going on the tube into London. We made a few changes, experiencing the Northern, Victoria and Central lines, finally getting into Westminster at 10:25am, "perfect!" I thought, because in order to get through security for our 11am tour slot, we needed to be early.
This was until my son lost his shoe between the train and the platform...
Mind the Gap
Yep, as we were getting off the platform, my son (who usually jumps over the gap) decided to step off, lost his footing (thank goodness I was holding on to him tightly) and lost his left shoe down the gap. This was absolutely devastating for him, as he really wanted to get going. One of his autism traits sees him struggling with patience, although this could also be because he's six years old. Long story short, the staff at Westminster tube station were brilliant, but the procedures they have in place meant they couldn't simply jump onto the track to retrieve the shoe like they did in the good old days, and we were looking at an hour-long wait before Seth could be fully shoed-up again. There are absolutely no shops to go to around that area to buy even a pair of tourist flip flops, and Seth was adamant that he didn't want to go home, so we had to make a decision as to what we were going to do. Luckily, another one of his autism traits sees him not giving a toss about what other people think, and he was happy to march on, sans one shoe.
We made our way to the Cromwell Green entrance of the Houses of Parliament and passed through security without any trouble. It was here that the only person on the entire trip openly asked about my son's shoe (or lack thereof). It was a security guard who I shared a laugh with at the situation (it is kinda funny in hindsight, especially with the pictures) which was quite reassuring because Westminster comes across as quite a formal place where wearing just the one shoe is definitely not the norm. She made us feel very at ease.
When we got in, it was really well set-up, with all the children and their families ready in a large meeting room and we had a lovely welcome from Siobhain and her team. There are regrettably a lack of photos from me here, as I was a bit preoccupied with Seth and his colouring, and working with him on the little exercises and colouring sheets they had left out. We also got a lovely free book which told a story about a school trip to the Houses of Parliament which was totally unexpected and a really lovely souvenir.
After the intro, we were taken off by our tour guide, a lovely young man named Ed, who I can only assume will want to go into politics one day. He was really knowledgeable, and also completely nonplussed about Seth's shoe issue (it was here I felt the need to explain, and afterwards that I realised that no one - even Seth - really cared about the lonesome shoe situation).
On the face of it, the Houses of Parliament are absolutely stunning. There are a few too many statues and busts of old white men for my taste, but then I feel that Westminster has a fair bit of catching-up to do on gender disparaties as a whole. There are no women's toilets in the House of Lords, just a couple of urinals in a small vestibule-like room just outside the entrance (which was handy for my son). There are also very few paintings featuring women women where they didn't happen to be a monarch, married to a monarch, worshipping a man (Jesus or a monarch) or Margaret Thatcher.
You're not actually allowed to take pictures in the House of Commons or the House of Lords, which is why I have none of the famed green and red benches. We weren't even allowed to sit on the benches, which is fine because they don't look all that comfy anyway.
The tour was really interesting, but quite tough-going for Seth because whenever he visits somewhere he first wants to whizz round the whole place and then go back to the bits that he likes best (usually the soft play area which surprisingly Boris Johnson hasn't installed during his tenure). This is difficult when the tour is organised and you need to be patient. When we finished the tour, we went back to a separate room for lunch, which they put on for free! Sandwiches, crisps, drinks and biscuits were subsidised by some amazing donations from Morrisons Mitcham and the Coop supermarkets, likely because Siobhain has great relationships with her local community, and you can see why when she puts on tours like this.
Thank you Siobhain for continuing to go over and above.
It turns out that this week Siobhain was hosting three days of tours, and for those who couldn't make it on the summer tours, she's also doing some October half-term tours. That's at least 150 children in this week alone, as there were a lot of kids there, and just such a lovely way to use your position to help enrich the lives of others who might not ever visit somewhere like the Palace of Westminster - I for one am almot 40 and had never been before.
I first met Siobhain when I was volunteering at the foodbank during the Covid lockdown back in 2020. This is something she does every week, and it feels like she is so close to the constituency, it's no wonder that she gets in with a landslide every time it comes to a vote.
Thank you Siobhain, you are better than you need to be.
Thank you also to the guys at Westminster tube station. They were proper friendly, and made what might have been a bit of a shitty experience quite memorable. Although, I would suggest that they invest in an extended litter picker device so that they can pincer things that fall onto the train track and retrieve them in a timely manner.
I'll leave you with Seth's final word on what would happen if he were Prime Minister. A refreshingly literal view from the mind of a six year old who has autism, but one that is not too dissimilar from the people actually vying for the role right now...