A tale of too many men about the House

"Grrrr!" I said to the man next to me in the Press gallery, as he cordially wished me a Happy New Year. Happy New Year indeed! Welcome back to the Gothic fairyland of Lady Olga Maitland, environment questions with Frank Dobson versus John Gummer, and adjournment debates on Anglo- Maltese relationships.

Listen for the millionth time as Ribble rent-a-quote, Nigel Evans, invokes the satanic Labour trio of the social chapter, the minimum wage and Hecate, Eel-Goddess of the Lower Depths.

Watch as a uniformly short-bearded New Labourite ingratiates himself with his whips by stating that this, that, or the other is a "disgrace" or "obscenity", without once feeling any obligation to suggest a remedy.

Fortunately, the year's business kicked off with transport questions, which tends to attract a slightly better class of question-and-answer than other question-times. The ministers are decent, if dull, and the MPs inclined to raise local concerns about which they actually know something: their new by-pass, their airport extension, their railway's rolling-stock. And, of course, bicycles - which exert a particular fascination for New Labour backbenchers.

Clive Soley (Hammersmith) revealed that he took his life in his hands every time he rode from home to House. "I feel like a by-election waiting to happen," he told alarmed colleagues. You could see Opposition members (who are desperate for an election) planning invitations to Conservative MPs to join them on exciting two-wheel tours of Hyde Park Corner and the North Circular Road.

But even this sounds safer than travelling by London Underground, given who might be driving the trains. In the course of one of his obsequious compliments to ministers (this time on levels of investment in the tube), John Marshall (Hendon South) told the House that he spoke "as one who has actually been at the controls of one of the new trains".

Mr Marshall in sole charge of a mouth is bad enough, but im- agine boarding a Northern line train at Hendon and discovering - after travelling at breakneck speed for several miles through a dark and smelly tunnel - that you are five miles up the back passage of the Chief Whip. You'd want a refund.

But what really strikes me every time I return to the House after a recess, is the unrelenting maleness of the place. In the first hour of parliamentary time in 1997, three dozen men spoke - but only two women: Glenda Jackson and Speaker Betty.

This thought struck me hardest when I was scanning the three grey-clad ministers on the government front-bench. To the left and right were the rounded, crumpled figures of John Watts and John Bowis. And between these twin rotundities flopped the long, and slightly limp form of Secretary of State for Transport, Sir George Young. The whole living sculpture was like a stone-age depiction of a failing fertility god.

Can anything be done? Yes, apparently. The subject was raised later on of the lack of catering and other facilities available to those visiting the House - schoolchildren from the West country couldn't get orangeade after a long journey. But Peter Viggers (Conservative, Gosport), had the answer.

"Other countries with lesser parliamentary traditions than ours," he began - with effortless pomposity - "have museums associated with their parliaments."

Museums where guests and the public and other such hoi-polloi could go, rather than clog up the real thing. Perhaps it was time that Britain too, had both a Parliament and a parliamentary museum?

Goddammit, I thought, old Viggers is right! We've got the musem - now let's build the Parliament!

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UX Consultant

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be working with a 8 st...

Recruitment Genius: Part-time Editor

£8000 - £12000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A unique opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Executive

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An exceptional opportunity has arisen for a pa...

Recruitment Genius: Kitchen and Bathroom Installers

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This provider of designer kitch...

Day In a Page

Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

The dark side of Mexico

A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border