Parliament & Politics: Bloodstained banknotes from the gallery of rogues

The Sketch

ARRIVING IN the House yesterday I was surprised to find it looking rather more dishevelled than is usually the case. Scattered across the floor in front of the mace was a thin drift of bloodstained banknotes. The odd sheet, obeying the famously wayward aerodynamics of paper money, had lodged on the back benches or on the table in front of the Speaker's chair.

It made for an intriguing picture and every now and then a newcomer would arrive and inspect one of the notes hopefully, before discovering that it had been issued by the Bank of Radical Indignation and laying it down again with a disappointed air. It looked as if some corrupt backbencher's wallet had exploded without warning. The truth was more mundane, naturally. Two men in the public gallery had dropped this filthy lucre to protest at arms sales to Indonesia, an outrage for which they were promptly hustled from the gallery.

Thoroughly deplorable, but I have to confess to a certain dismay at missing the moment of launch. It left me feeling a bit like a dedicated Loch Ness watcher who nips off to restock his caravanette-cum-observation post only to find that the monster has been posing for pictures with its baby while he's been gone.

I've been waiting months for someone to throw something from the public gallery. Indeed, it's one of the consoling fantasies of the sketch-writer's life to gaze across at the other end of this occasionally suffocating space and imagine one of those anonymous figures rising up and hurling a missile into the chamber. Sometimes the imaginary ammunition will be relatively benign but at other times, usually when some smirking Labour backbencher is busy oiling the wheels of their own career, the mind will arm that innocuous looking tourist with something more serious - perhaps a Heckler and Koch machine-gun locked on full auto. It isn't just stale rhetoric that conjures these aggressive day-dreams. It's as much the House's sense of its own dignity, a strangely malleable solemnity that can absorb the lazy slouch of frontbench Tories, propping their feet on the dispatch table with a patrician loutishness, or even the closing-time rowdiness of over-excited MPs, but which trembles in affront at the thought of a tie-less reporter or a member of the public writing something down on a sheet of paper.

Perhaps sensitised by that first outrage against parliamentary propriety, the Liberal Democrat MP Peter Brand denounced one of my colleagues to a clerk for chewing nicotine gum in the reporters' gallery, masticatory insolence that clearly could not pass unchallenged. One assault on democracy is quite enough for a single day.

He can perhaps be forgiven for seeking distraction from the debate - a grinding inspection of clauses and amendments to the Road Traffic Bill for which, at one point, the three main parties had mustered four, three and two MPs respectively.

These kind of numbers do strange things to the chemistry of the chamber. The same constituent elements are mixed together and the same kind of friction takes place but combustion is all but impossible. When John Hutton refused to give way to Evan Harris,the thwarted MP blinked with feigned amazement and looked around for support. If the House had been full he would have been rewarded with pantomime "oooohh!" but yesterday, not a murmur. The only relief from the proceedings lay in counting the number of times Liberal Democrats were teased about their prospects in the impending leadership campaign.

Already weary of this limited joke, Dr Harris expressed the hope that honourable members would soon become bored with it too. I fear he has greatly underestimated his colleagues' heroic capacity to withstand tedium.

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: Personal Tax Senior

£28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

£13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

Day In a Page

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
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory