Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Greeting and Grandees

Nearly bumped into David Cameron this morning as he pulled up on his bike and nearly collided with me . "Oops", he murmured. Last week also on a Wednesday our paths crossed in the Gents where he was patting down his hair before PMQs. Again physical proximity led to no exchange of civilities.

This led to me musing on the sociology of everyday life in Parliament.MPs are constantly on the move around the Palace of Westminster and its offices trooping off for votes and meetings- so your paths cross all the time. Most people - visitors and researchers excepted- know who people are, often what their names are and sometimes a fair deal about them. However if whenever you encounter anyone you know you greet them, smile at them or engage them in pleasantries you wouldn't timely get to your destination or would be constantly engaged in reciprocal greetings. So people select- walk past some, greet others, smile diffidently or nod at many - but on what basis?

Generally if you are regularly on a committees with people you greet as you pass them; most though not all party colleagues get a cheery wave or small talk. Spokespeople greet their opposite numbers and gregarious jolly people talk to all and sundry. MPs in neighbouring constituencies chat about the folks back home. However there is the 'grandee rule'.

Top ministers and former ministers of eminence or that club of MPs who by virtue of longevity or pomposity feel they have stature qualify as 'grandees' even if they don't all act like them.

Grandees blank most people but do greet fullsomely other grandees as they pass them hence mutually reinforcing their status- reciprocal preening. Some top press corps chaps have grandee status and act according to the same rules and etiquette. Some ministers to be fair (Jack Straw is a good example) act like anyone else in a lift. Others can change on demotion and gladly reclaim ordinary bloke status or prowl round the place in meaningful isolation like Alan Milburn. John Reid jovially approached Ken Clark and Malcolm Rifkind while we all stood waiting the other night for the voting to finish "Ah the young Turks, is it ?" he said with an ironic chuckle

Grandee talk with a hint of wistfulness.

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