Parliament contains many reminders of the past; whenever I hear Big Ben strike, I can’t help but wonder if its deep tones resonated in the same way in times gone by.
I step through the ages in my mind and consider what it must have been like to be here 20 years ago, 50 years ago, and more.
It must have been exciting to be part of Clement Attlee’s 1945 government, creating the NHS and delivering so many positive reforms. I’m told that there was a general feeling of contentment associated with Labour’s win in 1997; from what’s been said, I gather it was as if all the windows had been opened at once and a strong, fresh breeze had blown through the Palace of Westminster.
That’s not the present vibe. The Queen, who is the very symbol of stability and resolve, felt compelled to state that there’s “very sombre national mood” in her birthday message.
A friend of mine told me that the best summary of the Queen’s Speech came from a German newspaper: the headline read: “Two Years in Ten Minutes”. For all its rhetoric and bravado, this is a minority government contending with, among other things, arithmetic.
Meanwhile, disasters like the Grenfell Tower fire show that the cracks in Britain’s infrastructure and society can no longer be ignored.
I had the opportunity to ask Theresa May a question about the Grenfell Tower inquiry.
Specifically, I queried her about when the judge heading the public inquiry would be appointed. I also asked for a clarification about whether or not the cladding used at Grenfell Tower was compliant with existing building codes, and if there needed to be further tests before she could give us a reply.
I looked directly at her as she hesitatingly attempted to answer my questions; she came back to one of my queries later in the debate.
When I first arrived at Parliament, I was awed by the fact that so many people whom I’d only seen on television were now passing me in the halls. I’m sure that Diane Abbott will turn my first sight of her and my reluctance to get into the lift with her because of her undoubted fame into an amusing anecdote in years to come.
But now, here was Theresa May answering difficult questions: I don’t believe she is some sort of ogre. She is a human being: she looked tired, like the responsibility was weighing down on her ever more heavily with each word she spoke, each debate she attended, each crisis that landed.
The Queen’s Speech and this debate didn’t portend a government of fresh air; the Queen is right, it’s all “very sombre”.
I cling to hope; my Labour colleagues and I do see the first gleams of a bright dawn in the distance. We have ideas; we have energy. But the road to daybreak may be longer than we expect. We will just have to keep working at it.