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How Westminster Really Works

How Westminster Really Works, by Ronnie Cowan MP

Ronnie Cowan MP - Maiden speech

Previously, I described the use and layout of the many buildings that contribute to the infrastructure of Westminster. Grand, as they are, they don’t tell the full story or even come close. In Westminster, like most places, it is all about the people. And I don’t just mean the 650 MPs or 800 (and growing) members of the House of Lords. To facilitate them there are a myriad of people including Police, catering, tour guides, Special Advisors, mail room and clerks. Not to mention the fact that there are hairdressers, travel agency staff, bar staff, library staff (where would we be without the library staff) and they all combine to make the process of the parliament and government run.


I don’t agree with everything that happens at Westminster or how it is administered but it would be incredibly disrespectful of me not to recognise and acknowledge the professionalism, dedication, commitment and honest hard work that they all put in, day in, day out and often long into the night. Whether it’s Gladys and Godfrey, in the tea room, with their cheery smiles and outrageous laughs or Monty and Wayne, the doorkeepers, with their inside knowledge of process and timing, or John with his sub machine gun clutched to his chest, they are all integral in the operation of Westminster. Without them nothing would happen.


Beyond that we have the contribution of civil servants. Anyone that remembers the TV situation comedy ‘Yes Minister’ will be familiar with the role the civil service play. Of course it is always purely in an advisory capacity, isn’t it? If you have never seen this series then I recommend you watch it. Along with the more contemporary comedy series ‘The Thick of It’ they combine to give an excellent interpretation of Westminster and its workings. Mixing with ‘members’ and staff, or should that be circling ‘members’ who stray too far from staff for too long are the men and woman of the ‘Fourth Estate’ . Politicians and the media have a love hate relationship.


We need each other but rarely trust each other. Every politician wants favourable air time and column inches at the drop of a hat. Every journalist wants the inside track. There are 150 media passes given out that grant access to Westminster. Some MPs would say that’s 150 too many and others that it’s nowhere near enough for the coverage they require. Most, like me are content to dance the dance in the corridors and canteens, safe in the knowledge that neither side wins and when it gets too heated we can always retreat. Me to the Members only tea room and them to the press gallery bar.


Most MPs will have the majority of their own personal staff based in their constituency. Sensible MPs know that their own staff are the most important people in the equation and that the MP will not be effective without a good team around them. Some may choose to have somebody based in Westminster, the designation of staff is left up to each member and they decide how they want to utilise their staff and staff budget. Which brings us to the thorny subject of cost. But that is for the next edition! I suggest you lie down in a darkened room for a while before reading the next instalment where I shall reveal all the costs incurred in employing an MP!