A clear, engaging performance at the House of Commons - but it was by a US soul diva

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Indy Politics

As with all the best gigs, there were hassles on the door, arguments backstage and, most street-cred of all, the rozzers were nearly called in.

When the 21-year-old American soul diva Alicia Keys swept into the House of Commons yesterday, it can safely be said the heart of British democracy had never seen anything like it.

Fresh from her success at the Grammy awards, the platinum-selling Ms Keys and her entourage turned up in the unlikely surroundings of the Commons' Attlee Suite for a joint event with the Tottenham MP, David Lammy.

Her appearance was ostensibly a chance for Mr Lammy's teenage constituents to meet a real-life, high-achieving black role model. She would take questions in between renditions of her latest hits.

However, the proceedings attracted a whiff of controversy after claims that BMG, the singer's record label and the force behind TV's Pop Idol, was breaching Commons rules by staging what appeared to be a commercial event.

More Hammersmith Palais than Palace of Westminster, TV and radio music stations from all across Europe certainly packed out the room for what was billed by BMG as a "press conference" to promote Ms Keys' new single.

Although Mr Lammy had booked the Attlee Suite quite properly, the authorities were somewhat taken aback to see huge sound systems and hordes of TV crews arrive in the normally sedate corridors of Portcullis House.

When the Serjeant at Arms' office, in effect the Commons' security force, got wind of the noise and commotion being caused by the event, a clash between ancient and modern seemed guaranteed. Or as one of Mr Lammy's assistants put it: "The Serjeant is soooo not pleased, man."

Dressed in traditional black breeches and high-collared shirt, Muir Morton, the Deputy Serjeant at Arms, arrived on the scene with his assistants and his brow furrowed at the hubbub unfolding.

But, after reassurances that the attendance would not breach safety guidelines and that MTV cameramen would behave themselves, he allowed the event to go ahead.

As Commons Question Times go, the Q&A with Ms Keys was not exactly testing, with queries from the music hacks ranging from what was the first song she wrote to where she kept her Grammys.

Fortunately, the pupils of Tottenham asked more interesting questions and one 16-year-old schoolgirl, Careen Green, managed to join her idol in a duet. The crowd went truly wild with excitement.

Ms Keys, who gave note- perfect covers of Killing Me Softly and other tracks, said that her visit was aimed at "bridging the gap between politics and music for youth".

As Clem Attlee gazed on from his portrait on the wall, Ms Keys raised the roof with Marvyn Gaye's Trouble Man, a soul classic that featured the politically astute line: "There's only three things I know, tax, death and trouble."

After the event, Mr Lammy denied he had broken any rules and instead argued that Parliament should make an effort to be "a little more modern, a bit more hip, a bit more relevant to young people.

"This is a young woman who sings from the heart about neighbourhoods like mine. This House is a House for the people," he added.

"And because I'm the youngest MP, I choose to do things in my way," he said. "I'm not here to promote the status quo." Then again, Status Quo are nowhere near as hip in Tottenham as Alicia Keys.

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