I planned this trip around sporting events: Wimbledon, the Running of the Bulls, the Tour de France and the British Open, so you’d think they were what I was most excited about. Nope, not even close. I had a ticket to Tony Blair’s final Prime Minister Questioning Session (“PMQ’s”) my 2nd day in London. It was a ticket from the American Embassy that a lawyer I worked with in DC got for me. I had watched the PMQ’s on the BBC or C-Span before and loved how the House of Commons got the chance to hold their Prime Minister accountable for actions in person. I could only hope that one day we would stick Bush in the middle of a room to answer questions from the Senate and/or House alike (preferably the House, a lot more there).
I didn’t know a whole lot about the process of getting in, other than that those with UK tickets from their MP’s got in first, then if any spots were still available, it would go to those with Embassy tickets and then the general public that showed up. I got up early and headed to Westminster right away. I headed to security to ask the protocol and when I should be coming back to get in. The guy I talked to explained that with Embassy tickets it would be first come first serve if seats were available, so he registered my ticket. I was already 4th in line behind 3 Germans and the PMQ’s were over 3 hours away! He also explained that since it was the final one for Blair that odds are the Brits would use up all the MP tickets, but that there might be a sliver of hope available for me.
I walked around for awhile and around 11:30 headed back to Westminster to wait in St. Stephen’s Hall to see if I’d get in. There were quite a few of us lined up with Embassy tickets. The docent went around and asked everyone where they were from and I was the only American waiting. The Germans ahead of me made it clear that if only 1 or 2 spots were available, they’d take them, so I was sitting on a wing and a prayer. While waiting, Sherry (sp) Blair, Tony’s wife, and children walked past. I was the only person sitting that made any comment in regards to recognizing them. Only because the last time I saw Euan Blair, he was getting dragged out of Madam’s Organ in DC for trying to light his table on fire inside the bar, while he was interning on the Hill. I thought that if I could recognize the PM’s family, I should get in…nope, didn’t work…
…neither did my ticket. Around 12:30 when the PMQ started, the docent let us know that we weren’t getting in. If we wanted, we could wait around and after we could still go see the House of Commons and Lords. I asked if I was allowed to leave and come back later since I had a lunch date and she said sure. I then asked if she knew where I could buy a phone card, as I wanted to call the lady that got me the ticket to let her know the outcome. She said there was a post office further inside Westminster, but I had to go, grab the card and come right back because I wasn’t allowed in while the PMQ was going on. While on my way to the post office, a whole 20 feet from where I had been sitting, I saw a room filled with guys watching a live feed of the PMQ. I gave a smile to the security guard, knocked on the door and asked if I could join. I was more than welcomed, grabbed a seat and watched Blair talk in front of the MP’s for the last time from within Westminster. Blair’s PMQ lasted a little longer than the normal half hour and I didn’t walk back into the hall until 45 minutes later. I thought the docent was going to kill me. I let her know that I was able to watch a live feed, so I stuck around to check it out. I let her know the security guard was cool with it, as were the guys I interrupted, so she shouldn’t worry, she wouldn’t get in trouble.
Even though I wasn’t able to watch the final PMQ in person, I was happy with the chance to watch from w/in the Palace of Westminster. Once Blair was done answering questions and speaking, he headed strait to Buckingham Palace to formally resign to the Queen. I on the other hand, headed to my lunch date and came back later in the day to explore the place a bit further. It amazed me the ease of being able to walk around. While yes, security is tight, it was still a 100 times easier than trying to walk around Capital Building in DC (don’t even get me started on getting into the White House).
I was able to be a part of history in another country and that always makes for a great day for me.