'Do you know who I am?' Queue-jumping spat at British parliament
LONDON (AFP) - - There's nothing Britons hate more than a queue-jumper but the time-honoured tradition of respect and courtesy no longer seems to apply if you're an elected member of the "Mother of all Parliaments".
A row has broken out in London SW1 after the Serjeant at Arms, parliament's enforcer whose work wear includes buckled shoes, knee-length breeches and black tights, decreed honourable members should be given priority over lowly staff.
Signed by the Serjeant at Arms Peter Grant Peterkin and Sue Harrison, director of catering services, it was recommended by the lower House of Commons' administration committee and approved by the Speaker, Michael Martin.
"Staff and other users should be prepared to give way to Members when queuing for retail and catering services, the post office, travel office or when using other facilities such as lifts, photocopiers, telephone cubicles, etc.," the lofty edict that arrived in staff email inboxes read.
"When using parliamentary facilities, please bear in mind whether there is, or is likely to be, a heavy demand from Members and if so, try to amend your own plans or schedule."
News that members of parliament (MPs) could now pull rank for a cup of tea and a sticky bun or when buying a postage stamp prompted dark mutterings about elitism and was even condemned as a "throwback to feudalism".
"So much for equality in the people's palace. The political class really does have airs and graces," wrote Guido Fawkes, nom de plume of blogger Paul Staines rather than the conspirator who tried to blow up king James I in 1605.
MPs already have sole access to a number of bars and restaurants at Westminster. "Priority Access to MPs" signs have now gone up around the venerable institution, which dates back to the 11th century.
Lembit Opik, a lawmaker of Northern Irish-Estonian heritage notable for his concerns about an asteroid strike on Earth and swapping a TV weather girl for one half of a Transylvanian pop duo, was moved to propose an emergency motion.
The harmomica-playing Liberal Democrat's early day motion -- usually designed to publicise an MPs view -- said he noted Tuesday's announcement "with astonishment" and urged the committee to reconsider.
The man once referred to as the "walking Scrabble hand" because of the unusual combination of letters in his name said priority access might be practical at times such as before voting "but not everywhere all the time".
"This announcement serves to create a rigid two-tier system which is counter to an enlightened image of Parliament... there is merit in a general presumption of equality on the Parliamentary Estate," he added.
Fifty-six MPs had backed Opik's stance by the weekend. A meeting between the committee, the T and G union and the staff and assistants works council has been called for Tuesday to ask for the edict to be shelved.
Kevin Flack, secretary of the T and G's Parliamentary Staff Branch, told AFP their 400 or so members were "very angry" while some politicians, embarrassed that the document became public, claimed it would be unenforceable.
"Many people are affronted by the nature of it," he said. "All members of staff are obviously aware that if you have an MP in a hurry, you give them priority. They're the people that are elected to be in this place.
"But bearing in mind there's a large number of members only facilities to then suggest you should have a two-tier system for the rest of the facilities seems completely ridiculous."
Many of parliament's 10,000 or so staff work as administrators and are carrying out work on MPs' behalf anyway and there had been no reports of lengthy queues, he added.
"Parliament is building a brand new visitors' centre and is trying to show itself as a modern, forward-looking institution. I think it's a step backwards. It's the message it sends out as much as anything," he said.
Meanwhile, Speaker Martin, a gruff Glaswegian former sheet metal worker, came under fire after it was revealed Thursday he had spent just over 21,000 pounds (30,000 euros, 43,000 dollars) of taxpayers' money recently on lawyers.
Top London libel law firm Carter-Ruck was hired with the approval of the Commons authorities after a string of unflattering newspaper articles questioning Martin's impartiality.
Just over 17,000 pounds of the total went on his unsuccessful efforts to prevent a freedom of information request to publish MPs' expenses, Lib Dem lawmaker Nick Harvey told the Commons in a written answer.
Matthew Elliott, chief executive of The TaxPayers' Alliance, an independent grassroots organisation that campaigns for lower taxes, accused Martin of treating the public with "contempt".
"The Speaker may live in a former Royal Palace, but he shouldn't adopt the airs and graces of the ancient regime," he said.
"If he wants to hire flunkies, he should pay for them himself and not expect us to pick up the tab."
'Do you know who I am?' Queue-jumping spat at British parliament - Yahoo! Singapore News