Democracy in Action

lobby-170615-buntingIt was a wonderful sight that greeted me as I entered the Houses of Parliament on Wednesday with the aim of locating my MP and winkling him out to meet me.

Getting inside had been quite fun too. My day started with a photo-call of church leaders and then taking part in one of the big ecumenical services that began the mass lobby of Parliament on climate change. I then walked along the lobby line that stretched along Milbank, over Lambeth Bridge and along the Embankment, looking for where my constituency was placed.

jansmithEven that was entertaining. I happened to walk past my A Rocha UK colleague, Conservation Director Andy Lester, and the Bishop of Salisbury, Nic Holtam (Lead Bishop on the Environment), chatting with the Cornwall contingency and Surfers Against Sewage. A bit further along, I bumped into a friend who I hadn’t seen for about twenty-five years (amazingly we still recognised each other!).

All along the pavements and paths were people, grouped in their constituencies, putting up bunting and carrying banners and placards. Some MPs had already come out to meet their constituents, and there were people in groups, earnestly listening to and discussing with a be-suited person standing in the middle of them. The sun was shining and there was a lovely festival feel to the whole thing.

I found my constituency and met a bunch of people who I didn’t know, but were there with the same aim as me: to talk to our MP and ask him to take action on climate change.

Since our MP (Andrew Tyrie) had been less than forthcoming in our earlier requests to meet him, we decided to go to the Houses of Parliament and green-card him (a system whereby you hand in a green card at reception and, if they are in the building, the MP has to respond).

Getting past security was interesting as one of our group was a twelve-year old girl with a stuffed panda on a stick. She was there because she wanted to tell Andrew Tyrie that she loves pandas and doesn’t want them to die out due to the impact of climate change on the ecosystems they depend on. Amidst much laughter from everyone else in the queue, panda was confiscated, clearly a weapon of mass destruction.

So then we were there, inside the Houses of Parliament, in the lavish reception area. It was beautifully chaotic. People were everywhere. The receptionists tannoyed over the hubbub, calling out the names of MPs who were arriving to meet their constituents. Groups of people sat around, waiting or already talking with their MPs. Some MPs led their constituents off to quieter places, and they walked past like ducks in a row, brought up at the rear by nervous-looking junior members of the team, clutching documents to their chests.

meetingmpAs I looked around and thought about all that was happening here and on the streets outside, it struck me that I was witnessing democracy at its best. In the face of apathy and confusion, here were people getting together to meet directly with the person who represents them at government level.

Nearly 350 MPs were spoken to on Wednesday by their constituents, and it was a feature of the debates in both Houses that day. I was struck too by the peaceful nature of the whole thing. The streets outside Westminster are often dominated by two groups of people: tourists and angry protestors. Wednesday was different: it was full instead of people who cared enough to spend their own time and money to get together and have an informed and respectful conversation with their MP. Talking to the police outside, they said this was like a day off for them. I was proud to be a part of the day.

So what about Andrew Tyrie? Well, he never did come out to meet us, but I did manage to speak to him on the phone, in the middle of a Very Important Meeting that he was in. If nothing else, the day will have served to remind him that there are people in his constituency who take climate change very seriously; who care about the people and things that will be lost because of its impacts, and who want him to be a part of a government that takes meaningful action. Let’s hope it has an effect.