Nick (Mr Europe and jolly good at it) Clegg rang last week to say could I step into his shoes and take his place speaking at an Age Concern reception in Parliament.
The reception is held in the Speaker’s House – not so much of house as a castle at the left-hand side of Westminster Palace as you look from the main road. The apartments were grand – understatement! Reception rooms, leading to a state dining room with a table that would seat I guess about 50 or 60 – leading to a bedroom with the whole caboodle of four poster, desks, etc. Of course, Mr Speaker actually lives upstairs – but this is where he entertains.
Drinking champagne (yes – sorry – already being seduced by now being member of best gentleman’s club in town) and chatting, I discover that there will be three MP speakers as well as the Chief Executive of Age Concern and the Speaker himself – the other two being Teresa May and David Blunkett.
I gravitate, as instructed, towards the far end of the mile-long dining table and guests assemble around it. Mr Speaker (Michael Martin) and I have a little chat. I thought what he did when Patsy Carlton, our LibDem MP for Cheadle, came to the Commons to swear in – in a wheelchair and only a few days before she died after a long battle with cancer – was absolutely fantastic.
Patsy was pushed in the wheelchair as far as the Despatch Box where the chamber becomes too narrow for the chair to pass. Mr Speaker came down from his chair, kissed her, and said ‘welcome home Patsy’. I can’t even write this without welling up. It was incredibly moving and entirely the right thing to do. It was against all tradition – and this place is literally the bastion of tradition.
Anyway – after Mr Speaker and Age Concern spoke – I had my turn. They had chosen the three MPs not just from the three parties – but an oldy (David Blunkett), a middly (Teresa May) and myself as a new kid – three generations of MPs.