As a foreword to what I can only describe as a sensational exploration of career aspiration, I’d like to take this opportunity to emphasise the importance of real world learning (you can read more about that in a previous blog here). In particular the value that effective, meaningful work experience can add to a students learning experience during their time in any school. Not only does this offer the chance to scrutinise a profession a student is considering, it also provides a welcome break from the curriculum that is fast becoming the endless ‘examination machine’. So I would like to introduce a fantastic guest blog, all in her own words, from Molly, one of our Year 10 students who spent a total of two weeks shadowing our MP for Torridge and West Devon, Geoffrey Cox QC:
Monday 13th July 2015 Morning
Hello and welcome to Work Experience Week at the Houses of Parliament, in the office of Geoffrey Cox QC MP, Mk. 2! Today is my first day back in London, since my initial week in March.
It’s 7:15am, and I am currently sitting at the Performance Director’s desk in the London office of Nicoll Curtin Recruitment, reading the Economist and sipping hot chocolate from a company mug. It’s almost funny, how out of place I feel!
Nicoll Curtin Recruitment is an international company that operates in London, Zurich and Singapore. It’s core business is to match candidates and their CVs to jobs in dozens of different financial corporations, from HSBC to Barclays to Credit Suisse. Having graduated from Cardiff University with a Law degree last year, my cousin Lauren works as a consultant in the office with around 30-50 people! The office is very swish, decorated in co-ordinating shades of purple, black and white, and is very open-plan with a kitchenette, ping-pong table and seating area laid out around the computer desks. It’s an early start, Lauren regularly gets in by 7am, meaning a 5:30am alarm as she has about a 45min commute!
Because Lauren is super busy, we will be getting the train together to her office each day, but I will have to get the Underground (Tube!) to Westminster on my own. This is something I didn’t have to do when I was here in March, so it could be interesting but I like a challenge and it’s nice to be independent.
During my last visit to Westminster, it was the week before the Dissolution of Parliament for the General Election! Strangely, this week is the week before Summer Recess! Both very busy times in the Parliamentary calendar.
I’m not sure quite what’s going to happen today, but I’ll keep documenting events as they occur. I’m very excited though, so I hope it’s going to be good! As before, I will be working in the office of my local MP Geoffrey Cox, and will be shadowing Oliver Mundell, who is Geoffrey’s Senior Parliamentary Researcher. Incidentally, Oliver is also the son of David Mundell, the Secretary of State for Scotland!
Today was amazing! I successfully navigated the Tube on my own! I took the Circle line (the yellow one) there, and the District line (the green one) on the way back.
The Tube (or the London Underground Train Network) is actually really simple to navigate, once you’ve done it a few times – you just need to know where you are, where you want to end up, which direction you are going to travel in (North, South etc.), and which colour line connects your location and your destination! The challenge of the Tube is getting on and off! You do have to be very assertive when on the train, to ensure you enter and exit where you want to! It’s weird to start with, but you get used to it.
When I arrived at the Cromwell Green entrance, I had to tell the police officer at the gate why I was there, and then had to go through security. It’s very similar to airport security, if you’re familiar with it – you have to take off any coats, jackets, watches and belts, and leave your bag and phone etc. to be x-rayed! You have to step through an x-ray machine yourself, and if it bleeps you get searched! Luckily there weren’t any issues with my stuff, and if everything’s approved you get a visitors badge and can walk into Westminster Hall, where main reception is located (I have to repeat this process every morning!).
The start was slow – I answered about 250+ emails, mainly about the Hunting Bill Amendments, which people seem very passionate about! Campaign emails are just template emails from activist sites with exactly the same content in each, it’s just the name of the sender that differs. Unfortunately, the sheer quantity of these emails received means we have to send a completely standard response, and that can annoy some recipients. People get quite vitriolic about it – we’ve had some really nasty emails, full of profanities, but the office simply doesn’t have the time to write individual responses.
I went to lunch at 12:30pm, I had rocket and chorizo sandwiches and some fruit and crisps, and sat with some of the other MPs’ staff, who were so nice and funny. We sat in Bellamy’s, which is a cafeteria across into Whitehall that’s part of the Parliamentary estate.
After lunch, Oliver and I went to the Vote Office to pick up some papers. The Vote Office is in the Atrium (the central café area) and as we walked through I saw… BRIAN MAY!! We sat at a conveniently close table until I plucked up the courage to talk to him. He was in the middle of a meeting discussing his opposition to the forthcoming vote on the proposed relaxation of the foxhunting ban, but he didn’t seem to mind the interruption! He was so lovely, and asked me about my work experience. Hang on, here’s a transcript:
M (Molly): Excuse me, Sir, would you sign my order paper? (I forgot my phone, so no selfie I’m afraid!)
BM (Brian May!!) : Of course! And who are you?
BM: [signing my paper] And why are you here? On work experience?
M: [mumbles nervously] yes, with Geoffrey Cox
BM: And which way will he be voting on Wednesday? (BTW, BM is a huge animal rights activist, against the Hunting Bill)
M: [physically cringeing]…for the bill…
BM: Ah. [mock anger] Tell him he’s harming animals the world over!
M: Oops…[grinning] will do! Thankyou so much!
O (Oliver): Hello, didn’t want to interrupt but I thought she [pointing] might get away with it!
BM: It’s fine, honestly.
It was sooooo nerve-wracking! But he was super friendly.
While I was at the Vote Office I got a copy of the Budget book, which is a written report on all the things that George Osborne said last Wednesday for the Summer Budget, and a couple of other bits and pieces.
My office day finishes at 5pm, so I caught the Tube to Monument and ate at Lauren’s work (omelette, rocket and ketchup!) while she finished making some calls (her day doesn’t finish until 7pm!). Before catching our train home, we wandered along the Queen’s Walk to Tower Bridge and Hays Galleria. It’s so beautiful, I’ll put some pictures in here.
Tuesday 14th July 2015 Morning
Hello Tuesday! I’m back at Lauren’s work, eating my breakfast. I have postcards to post today, and tonnes of meetings too. I’ve got select committee meetings and a conference reception tonight with other MPs, which should be fun!
Just reflecting on Lauren’s office right now – this environment is completely different to any working environment I’ve ever experienced before. It’s super organised and managed to the nth degree, but there’s still room for jokes and coffee and conversation amongst a very busy work dynamic. Everyone here is a consultant (and/or a manager), which means their work includes finding profiles on LinkedIn, reading CVs and ringing candidates and companies to find out about their suitability. Lauren also gets to go to lots of important meetings in the many big glass buildings that are dotted around the centre of London:
- 1 Canada Square – the Canary Wharf building with the pyramid roof
- 32 London Bridge – The Shard, the thin glass pyramid
- 30 St. Mary Axe – the Gerkin!
- The Citigroup Centre – the Cheese Grater!
- 20 Fenchurch Street – the Walkie Talkie, the one that melted the Jaguar!
- 110 Bishopsgate – The Heron Tower!
I like it here. A lot.
Today has been very busy!
When I arrived at the office, we had 200+ more emails about the fox hunting vote overnight! That was annoying though because the vote was actually shelved today, because the SNP went back on their word and decided to vote on an English-only law, in spite of the debate surrounding EVEL (English votes, English laws). EVEL is a cause of some controversy – verbal puns aside.
Anyway, we managed to get through most of the emails and then Geoffrey came in and I got to talk to him about some of the things he and I have been doing recently. That was really interesting, because although he’s an MP with an office here in Parliament (where he spends roughly 4 days a week), he also has an office in the constituency, in Bideford in the north of Devon. He attends lots of events and meetings in the constituency too. He is a very busy person!
After that, Oliver and I walked to the Lobby (the massive hall where the entrances to the House of Commons and Lords join) , where we watched the Commons’ Speaker’s procession into the Chamber. That was so cool – very strict tradition involving massive gold insignia, marching and shouting! The Speaker is responsible for chairing debates and maintaining order in the Chamber – the House of Lords has one too (called the Lord Speaker!) – and they have to make sure that all the Members are polite and don’t shout too much or try and drown each other out. The Speakers are not allowed a political bias or opinion and cannot speak in debates. They have to try and be as independent from the politics of the House as possible, which must be difficult. The current Common’s Speaker is a man named John Bercow, who is a controversial figure and some claim he is biased towards the Labour Party, but he is well-respected by most MPs. The current Lord Speaker is a woman called Baroness D’Souza.
Immediately after the Procession, I got to sit in the Public Gallery and watched Oral Questions to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. You can see my notes on the next few pages. That was really interesting and very topical with lots of questions on Tunisia, Syria and Greece.
11:30am – Oral Questions to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – Chamber of the House of Commons (I was there!)
Q3 – What discussions has he had with ministers in the devolved administrations on renegotiation of the UK’s membership of the EU?
- Include referendums from devolved governments
- UK in, UK out
Q4 – What recent discussions has he had with the Burmese government on (a) the Rohingya community in Rakhine state and (b) democracy and human rights in that country?
- defending Aung San Suu Kyi’s right to stand as presidential candidate
- support Ban Ki Moon leading a delegation for human rights admin
- release of over 2000 political prisoners and over 500 child soldiers
- 8th November , aim for a democratic election, including the Rohingya people
- fight against continued sexual assault by military personnel
Q5/8 – What assessment has he made of the human rights situation in Colombia?
- concern over murders and death threats to human rights campaigners
- attempts to deescalate conflicts
- more trust of external bodies needed
- reduce human cost
- aim of talks on 20th July, raising issues with Ambassador?
- similarity with NI peace talks – need for independent monitoring group?
Q6/9 – What further discussions he has had with his counterparts in EU member states on issues relating to EU reform raised by the Prime Minister at the June 2015 European Council?
- changes to accommodate global trades/markets
- improve trade of digital/online goods and services
- extend Euro single market in services, v. underdeveloped
- change pay and protection for workers i.e. maternity rights, part time workers’ rights etc.
Q7/10 – What assessment has he made of the current situation in Greece and the effect of that situation on other EU member states?
- good ‘agreekment’!
- wary of specific processes
- Junior EU council discussions to follow
- contingency plans for businesses/tourists
- 17hr discussion ‘excessive’ but if that’s what’s necessary…
- Alex Salmond – should have shown “solidarity”, “lack of empathy with Greece”
- maintenance of friendship and support
Q11 – What progress is being made on diplomatic efforts to free the Saudi blogger Raif Badawi?
- sentenced to 10years and 1000 lashes
- clear UK support of right to free speech
- currently working with Saudi Arabian Supreme Court
Q12 – What assessment has he made of the security situation in Tunisia; and what support his department is providing to British citizens affected by the recent terrorist attack in that country?
- all victims repatriated have police support workers
- work with Tunisia to protect citizens
- visit of Tunis Parliamentary Speaker to UK
- recently claimed by ISIS
- ISIS link between Libya and Syria
Q13 – What discussions he has had with his counterparts in EU member states and others on (a) resettlement of Syrian refuges and (b) the UN’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis?
- support for Syrian refugees
- increased citizen security against indiscriminate bombs and weapons
- “Europe isn’t doing enough” – needs more funds to supply refuges
- take more refugees in Europe or support Syria?
Next came lunch, with me, Oliver, the other intern who is Geoffrey’s son (Jonathon) and Alistair Cook, who works for another MP (I think his constituency is the other side of Manchester). I love meeting other staff and hearing about what they do and help with. It’s really interesting!
After lunch, Oliver and I went to an APPG (All Party Parliamentary Group) on Debt and Personal Finance. Martin Lewis, the Money Saving Expert, was there and did a talk about his company. There were lots of different stalls from different companies, from Which? to Money Saving Advice to StepChange to TSB! I got to speak to lots of different people and learn about the purpose and function of APPGs. They are designed to help MPs and their staff make connections with external agencies in case they can be of any use to constituents. There are literally hundreds of these APPGs, all of different topics and issues.
After the APPG we answered more letters and emails, and then at about 4:45pm we went to a drinks reception! This one was hosted by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers. I felt slightly awkward at first – I was by far the youngest in the room, the ‘drinks’ were alcoholic and I know very little about mechanical engineering! But I relaxed a bit when everyone started just talking amongst themselves. I found some interesting leaflets to read! Oliver said that these kind of informal meetings are designed to encourage MPs, staff and external agencies to form links, so they can help constituents or support other events. It was good fun and really interesting to find out what the Institute actually does!
Something happened today, that I think it’s important to include. My friends and family are very familiar with my attitude towards inequality and discrimination, especially sexism, and I am not very good at keeping my mouth shut when I see or hear something that I think is wrong. It can make me a bit unpopular at times, but I think that everyone should challenge discrimination when they hear/see it but I understand that it takes confidence to speak up and it’s not always easy.
Anyway, today I witnessed two co-workers discussing a media story about new recruits in the Kiev Police Force. In an attempt to fight corruption, the Kiev police force have brought in dozens of new recruits, and they have tried to create a better gender balance, so many of the new officers are female. In addition to recruiting, they have started a social media campaign to get the public to feel more comfortable with the new officers, with a variety of hashtags including #KyivPolice and #selfiewithacop. Dozens of selfies with the new officers have been posted! The BBC featured some in their news article and the two co-workers were reviewing the images. I overheard one say to the other: “she’s clearly not a police officer, she’s a stripper”, to which the other replied “yeah, that’s what they always wear”.
I was instantly angry, but I turned around and said politely and calmly – “excuse me – you can’t say things like that, it’s unfair and sexist!”. They immediately started trying to justify themselves, saying things like “it’s a really common costume, she could be…” etc. etc.
However, at this point Oliver came in from the office next to us and said “yes, actually she’s right. You need to watch what you say about things like that, it’s really inappropriate”. Later in the day, Oliver offered the co-workers some leaflets highlighting women in technology, and suggested they might want to read them!
I decided to challenge their sexist attitude because I felt by not challenging it I would have been telling them that their behaviour was okay. And it’s very clearly not. Female officers deserve the same respect afforded to their male colleagues. Attitudes like these surface time and time again in the political sphere, despite it being 2015. The pink ‘battle bus’, Liz Kendall being asked how much she weighs instead of what her policies are, Theresa May facing criticism of her fashion choice not her politics – if you want to see 21st century sexism in action, just Google Nicola Sturgeon, then David Cameron, and see what links appear.
‘Clothes’, ‘makeover’, ‘age’ VS ‘salary’, ‘biography’, ‘net worth’. Point made.
Another unpredictable, but very enjoyable day!
Wednesday 15th July 2015 Morning
Another early start, another busy agenda!
Today I know I’ll get to meet Alison Croft, who is the main office manager who usually stays in Bideford, and she is the person who helped to organise my work experience in the first place!
It’s 7:30am, I’m in Lauren’s office right now, listening to a conversation about pharynxes and post-it note mountains?! And reading Metro! That’s a unique feature of London – newspapers. You get a free Metro in the morning and a free London Evening Standard later in the day. You can also get Metro Sport, City AM, Money Market etc. completely free…and everyone reads them! All you can hear in the silence of the Tube carriage, above the screech of the wheels, is the rustling of hundreds of paper pages. Speaking of the Tube, I’ve got one to catch!
Well…today has been absolutely and utterly amazing.
After answering letters and emails and usual office stuff, Alison, Chris and Rachel arrived from Bideford at about midday. We had lunch together and talked for ages about different areas of our work.
Just after we finished eating, we wandered down to the ground floor and Alison said she wanted a coffee. We lined up outside the Despatch Box (Parliament’s own coffee shop in the central Atrium) and they got drinks. But, as we were walking away, a heavily armed security guard walked past, so I turned to look…AND THERE STOOD DAVID CAMERON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Alison and the rest of the group immediately started chattering and hurrying away, so I said “can I go up to him?”. Alison hesitated, and said “I don’t think we (pointing at the staff) can but…”
So I walked up to DAVID CAMERON – and here’s a transcript:
M: [walks up nervously, proffers hand]…H-hello…
DC: [shakes hand] Hello? What are you doing here?
M: I’m on my work experience.
DC: Oh good, with who?
M: Geoffrey Cox, one of your MPs (Geoffrey is Conservative!)
DC: Oh brilliant – what have you been doing?
M: Answering emails, office things…
DC: Thankyou very much – does he pay you?
M: [startled] No?
DC: He should at least buy you lunch!
M: [laughs nervously] yes, yeah, haha, thankyou [backs away]
DC: Bye, thankyou
He was really friendly, I was so scared!
The rest of the day was spent organising the office and talking to Chris, Alison and Rachel about what they do.
At the end of the day, we went to the Peninsula Rail Task Force Reception with Rachel, Chris and Oliver. That was really interesting and it was all about improving many of my local railways which is a really positive step towards linking the south west/east to bigger cities. Afterward, we had afternoon tea, scones and sandwiches in the Pugin Room with Geoffrey (he paid!) which was fun! It’s very ornate and exciting!
After I got back to the Nicoll Curtin office, Lauren and I walked all around the other side of the Thames – the Globe, the Golden Hinde, the Commons’ and the Lords’ bridges, the Festival of Love…that last one was particularly spectacular, I have lots of footage of very talented street performers and buskers. Musicians, flamenco dancers, stunt bikers, skateboarders…it was awesome!
Then we came home and are about to go to bed! It’s been a great day!
Thursday 16th July 2015 Morning
I wonder how today will go! I bet there will be emails though, because of the postponed fox hunt vote – so many emails….we’ve had 500+ in the last few days!
Not a lot else to add, other than that I’m going to Bella Italia to eat tonight!
Today has been really good! Thursdays can be quiet, because the Houses don’t normally debate and it’s coming up to Summer Recess now as well, so there is even less going on than normal.
However, I did my usual emails and things this morning, and I got to watch Jeremy Hunt’s (Minister for Health!) statement on NHS Reform, and a select committee on Section 125 on EU Impartiality and Purdah. These were explorations of very intricate details on specific issues, which was really informative.
After lunch with the staff from Oliver’s dad’s office who were lovely, it was back to the office for emails and conversations about STEM and magazines with the other staff (including the co-workers I had challenged earlier in the week!). I had an interesting conversation in which I explained terminal velocity and the function of gravity on space time – I think I gained their respect! I love being geeky sometimes.
The highlight of my day was literally walking into Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London! I was only able to exchange a quick hello as he was in a rush to get somewhere, but it was still amazing!
Friday 17th July 2015 Morning
Last day today! I’m only at Westminster until 3pm today, then I’m getting the Bakerloo/Jubilee line to Paddington to catch the 16:06 First Great Western to Plymouth. I can’t wait to be home but I think I will miss the London lifestyle, and especially the Tube – having been a bit nervous at the start of the week, I actually really love it now.
I got a croissant from Pret A Manger for breakfast today! Yay! Pret is something I wish we had in Tavistock, their food is so good…mmmmmmm!
This morning, Oliver was running late so I got to spend some time in Westminster Hall, where main reception is housed. It is an awe-inspiring building, huge and very beautiful! I discovered some really interesting facts from the displays around the walls! It’s the only original part of the Palace of Westminster; it has survived two major fires, in the 1500s and again in the 1800s and was even bombed in World War Two! It’s the building that all state funerals are held in, from Churchill to Atlee to Thatcher, and has hosted speeches from some of the world’s most famous politicians – including President Obama! Bizarrely, King Henry VIII even used to play tennis in it!
Fridays are the quietest day of the week in Parliament because neither of the Houses usually ‘sit’ (hold debates) and most MPs begin their journey back to their constituencies. I was lucky then to bump into Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party, who as well as this key role also works as a researcher for another MP. I spent most of my day finalising a speech for Geoffrey on English Votes, English Laws (EVEL!) and doing some research on independent mental health advocates (IMHAs). I found this particularly interesting because Geoffrey submitted a motion on this to be debated in the House which government MPs have chosen to support!
I’m on the train on the way home now with a muffin and a hot chocolate and my newspaper to help me with the 4 hour journey ahead…
Another amazing week in Westminster! It’s hard to pick a highlight but obvious contenders would be meeting Brian May and David Cameron! Being part of such significant events – debates, committees, statements – is fascinating and the whole experience of being in London, living, travelling and just enjoying the sights has been incredible! It was a real bonus to spend some time in a commercial office with my cousin, talking to employees about their work and their lives and experiencing ‘working life’ from a completely different perspective.
Thank you for reading my notes and I hope you enjoyed this insight to my week in Westminster! Goodbye!