Westminster Palace (Houses of Parliament) is a world renowned landmark in the center of London. Its grand exterior is not only familiar to Londoners, but to everyone who consumes the media. To many it is symbol of power and politics. A place where laws and legislation are made, lives are changed and history is made. It defines London as the power hub of England and is a well-loved tourist attraction to millions each year.

The exterior of Westminster Palace is familiar, constant and well known. Yet the interior and what goes on inside feels like another world. The building is open to the public yet restricted in its access. A tour will set you back £14 but is free if booked through the office of a person’s local Member of Parliament. 

Security is tight; perhaps a reflection on modern society as a whole. Persons and bags are searched and a pass is issued to signify whether or not someone had been security checked. Photos are only permitted in Westminster hall and are restricted for the rest of the building.

Westminster hall is impressive in size and boasts a magnificent roof with high reaching timber arcs and beams. The hall is the oldest part of the parliamentary estate and is steeped with British history. Not only used for political purposes, Westminster palace as whole was first occupied by the Royal Family and later became the home for the government in 1508 during the reign of Henry VIII.

The deep set history with the Royal Family is still seen today, not only because the Queen is head of state, but because of the somewhat strange and dramatic rituals an example of which can be witnessed during The State Opening of Parliament. An annual event which marks the beginning of a new parliamentary year, The State Opening of Parliament is the only time the three elements of Parliament – the Sovereign, the House of Lords and the House of Commons – are together (Parliament, 2013).

Each part of Westminster Palace is unique in its design. The House of Lords has awe inspiring décor which is intricate and fascinating in its design. Quite the opposite, is the House of Commons, which is home to many lively debates and the familiar green benches. The design is simple yet works well with the nature of government proceedings.

The palace is full with artwork. Scenes of bloody battles – such as that the Battle of Waterloo – dominate the walls. Past members of the Royal Family stare eerily from their frames and ex-Prime ministers stand tall in the form of statues. Although a place where modern politics takes place, the building is full with history and reminders of how the country became what it is today.

The Houses of Parliament is situated in Westminster on the River Thames, across from the London eye, both of which are popular and iconic landmarks of London. 

A visit to Westminster Palace is worthwhile. Underneath its modern facade London is steeped in rich history which a tour of the Houses of Parliament helps to reveal.

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(*part of a journal thing for uni!)

Recently I've found myself wincing at politics and its futile political point scoring. Suddenly power appears to be more important than people. And i'm not just talking about the right of the political spectrum. I'm also talking about Labour. I'm a member of the Labour party. I agree with the majority of Labour's founding values: social justice, community, fairness and equality; all things which I believe to be crucial for a society to work as well as it possibly can. Yet even a party that can pride itself with the creation of the National Health Service can find itself locked in a political battle which does not even touch people outside the realms of Westminster. The "world of Westminster", for lack of a better name, is so far from the reality in which many people live it's hard to see how politicians can present any sort of representation of society as a whole. I know, all very obvious but it's something that is increasingly irritating me. Politics should be about the people yet the people barely come into it. Only recently during a debate on Syria, commentators and politicians alike were seemingly more focused on the 'political win' than the outcome of the result. Children and adults were dying and yet both sides were babbling on about how much of a defeat it was for David Cameron and how it could affect the 2015 general election. I found this strange, their reaction was all wrong; surely? And yet this is the exact nature of politics. It's a game for power and the people appear to be bargaining chips. Every move is about making the opponent look foolish and weak whilst making themselves seem morally superior. This isn't to say I don't believe politics doesn't help people, it can and it does. It's just sometimes hard to see through all the political spin.

23rd January 2013 

I was recently fortunate enough to be able to ask Newsnight journalist Paul Mason a few questions in regards to an essay I was writing as part of my degree. He very kindly wrote way more than I anticipated, all of which is invaluable if you’re at all interested in any type of journalist career. 

My question asking skills are pretty awful. So apologies for the lack of creativity.

I popped three questions in an email, they were:

  1. How do you feel social networking sites (such as Twitter) have changed the way you go about journalism ?
  2. What would you say are the best ways of engaging a reader in a subject they may not be interested in?
  3. Why do you use history in many of your articles?

Paul’s answers…

1) Social networks have changed the world for journalists, but Twitter is by far and away the biggest change. First, because I – and others I know – use it as a primary news source. If you follow other journalists you can see events happening in realtime – such as during the fall of Gaddafi. Sometimes those journalists will try to correlate each other’s facts, or shout out for help – as for example when someone in Libya tweeted “they’re using sniper rifles, anybody tell us the range” and within minutes people were able to look up the kind of rifles sold (by a British firm) and the max range (1000m).
 
Second, because it exposes spin based on false information and destroys it, holding the perpetrators to ridicule. Third because it places you under pressure – from your peers and from the audience. Fourth because it allows you to disseminate an instant link to your work. So if I do a blog on the BBC website, or an article in a paper, I can send the bitl.y link to my 60k followers. If it gets retweeted by someone big – as my “Twenty Reasons” blog did in February 2011, by @glinner among others – it can go viral.
 
I would finally say that the generally networked society is changing the audience’s perceptions fast. People are constantly filtering information – and they are begining to treat journalists like music fans treat artists: I like him, not her etc. People feel they have a right to information, and will sometimes even question the running order and editorial treatment of the daily current affairs programme like Newsnight. And because I am the only high-profile reporter on the show with Twitter, they will attack me even for things I had nothing to do with!
 
2) That’s easy. Focus on the specific, the human, the personal. Use suspense, the delayed-drop. And the sub-editor’s job is to avoid putting people off before it’s about enticing them in. So if you look at, eg this:
 
 
Simmering Anger in Seville – but what about? The band musicians don’t look angry. And then it’s sold on my on my picture byline. Finally you get to read something and it’s completely not about anger: 
 
“The Spanish version of the soprano cornet is tiny: it curls like a golden snail in the hand of the player. There is only one valve, and it is tweaked, like a tap, so that the melody it produces swoops and squeals.”
 
I am quite pleased with this article, because it exemplifies the way I write. It will seem old hat in 10 year’s time – but it’s learned from Orwell, from the New Journalism (Wolfe, Talese, Terry Southern (!) Hunter S Thompson etc) by pure trial and error imitation. And of course then putting yourself in a situation that the reader could never be in. Or is not likely to be in.
 
3) The heart of TV journalism is narrative. The famous slogan of the US show 60 minutes was “Tell Me A Story”. And I, and the people who can regularly knock out decent TV reportage, spend a lot of time studying and discussing narrative structure – so reading Robert McKee’s “Story” (I’ve been on his course of the same name). 
 
What I think I am doing is *reportage* and there is a lost art of doing this, which relies on recognising you are writing *literary non-fiction*. I do it in the articles and in the VTs, though VT is teamwork and you end up in huge arguments with your producer, who drives the edit. I’ve read a lot of Chinese reportage – there were maybe 10 or 20 people doing in China in the 1930s what only Orwell or Hemingway were doing here.
 
So as to the use of history – one of the main aims of journalism has to be to get the reader to say: heck I didn;t know that! That totally changes my view of the world. Now while this can be done through a scoop of revelation, it’s also possible to achieve through what we call “a scoop of understanding”. History can provide both: and I’d remind you that in the digital age there is ever more “history” being produced – photos and records digitised, names crosscheckable etc.
 
For me however there is also a political motive. In the past 20 years the neo-liberal economic project tried to destroy various categories in history, above all the “class struggle”. Why do I know about The Silver Lake? Because I’ve studied German music in the 1920s and 30s. Why did I relate it to the experience in Greece? because I genuinely did sit there and have a moment of revelation while speaking to the forlorn anarchists and leftists who seemed to be revelling in despair. My brain made the connection. Having done that I remembered that the Silver Lake had been shouted offstage in 1933 by fascists, just as the play Corpus Christi was – but then I had to speed-order a book called Kurt Weill on Stage to find a decent description of what happened.
 
And this is probably another clue to why history is so powerful in current affairs writing: it is knowledge that can’t be Googled.
 
As to history in VTs, again, the moving image is incredibly powerful – and at the BBC I have access to brilliant archive material. Generally 30 seconds of black and white archive can enhance understanding in any ideas or analytical piece, and I probably have to ration it otherwise I would use it all the time!
 
Thanks again, Paul!
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