Chris Moncrieff CBE served as a political journalist for half a century, and was a well-respected figure in the Palace of Westminster — so much so, they named the press gallery bar after him.
Chris sadly died in November 2019 at the age of 88. He had recently completed his third book, There's Nowt so Queer as Political Folk, a miscellany of scandals, anecdotes and memories from his time among the political elite. His family are now seeking a publisher, and we hope they're successful, because these stories deserve to be told. Here, we share just three from the manuscript...
Sex in the speaker's chair?
The late Tory MP Alan Clark, renowned as the Great Casanova of Westminster, found the place totally without fault. He said:"Westminster is a tawny paradise: eleven bars, special rooms for interviews, watching television, or parking members of one's family. Champagne and toasted teacake at any time of day. Leather armchairs. What more could they want?"
However, the ex-Tory MP Edwina Currie, famous for her remarks about salmonella in eggs but even more famous for her affair with John Major, had a bleak warning for parliamentary "widows" about amorous goings-on at Westminster.
She said: "There is an inexhaustible supply. No one needs to pay for sex. It is stalking the corridors of power, hitching up its skirt, delighted to be asked, and wives who try to forget it are nuts."
Spot on, I would say.
Indeed, there is a parliamentary equivalent — so far unnamed — to the Mile High Club, for people who manage to have sex in an aircraft without being spotted. It is the popular ambition to have sex on the Woolsack, the famous item of furniture in the House of Lords on which once the former Lord Chancellor, and now the Lords Speaker sit and oversee the chamber. I know of no one who has achieved this daring feat, but those considering it should be aware that it might not be so comfortable a berth as they might have imagined.
The Woolsack is not filled with wool, but horsehair which may not enhance the ecstasy of congress in such grandiose surroundings. The Speaker's Chair in the House of Commons does not possess the same aura as the Woolsack, but is still an acceptable second-best for illicit behaviour. I am aware of some amorous antics which have taken place, in secret, on the Speaker's Chair, which fell short of full consummation. No wonder — it is not built for comfortable humping, as the Americans would say.
The Press Gallery has had its moments, too; the less said about that the better. But wherever you go in the Palace of Westminster, there is always an unexpected nook not far away, ideal for a spot of clandestine and illicit romance.
An eccentric building
The Palace of Westminster itself contains as many eccentricities as its inmates over the centuries. At the time of writing, there are insidious moves in some quarters to do away with many of these traditions because, according to some unenlightened people, they stand in the way of Parliament being simply a flat place of work bereft of tradition .
That, if I may say so, is a variety of vandalism which should be stamped upon good and hard. The Palace of Westminster is absolutely steeped in history; it is dripping off the walls; it is everywhere. You sense it, breathe it, feel it wherever you go. It would be criminal to banish it.
For instance, the hooks still remain where MPs in the distant past used to hang their swords before entering the Chamber. The idea that these hooks should be removed — as some advocate — is outrageous and would simply diminish, if only slightly perhaps, but diminish it nevertheless, the magic and majesty of the building. The only individual now permitted to carry a sword in the Chamber is the Sergeant-at-Arms.
After all, we are reminded from time to time that the two front-benches in the Commons Chamber are two sword lengths apart. Whether or not that this is a coincidence I don't know, but it nevertheless remains a fact and should not be forgotten. We must mount and maintain a stiff defence against these marauders of tradition.
Dung in the chamber
The rules for the behaviour of visitors in the so-called Strangers' Gallery [the public galleries where anyone may watch a debate] are pretty explicit. Talking, writing postcards, knitting and, of course snogging — all these practices have been curtailed by officials at one time or another.
Once an inebriated youth either fell or jumped into the Commons Chamber, while various items, including a phial of purple flour aimed at Tony Blair have been hurled into the Chamber.
Thrown objects have also included a smoke bomb, which was more like a jumping crackerjack. The most unpleasant missile was a load of horse manure and straw. The perpetrator was Yana Mintoff, daughter of the former Prime Minister of Malta, Dom Mintoff.
Apparently she and her accomplice had the manure in bags strapped around their bodies. It is astonishing how they got through security unchecked. I would have thought the aroma would have been enough to alert the security guard. Perhaps he had a severe cold on that July day in 1978. Since then a glass wall has been erected at the front of the gallery.