Political Profiles from British Public Life

Political Profiles from British Public Life

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Political Profiles from British Public Life

Political Profiles from British Public Life

Read FREE!

Excerpt

THE PRESS GALLERY

The author was for some eighteen months a representative of The Times in the Press Galleries of the Houses of Parliament, and the studies that follow are based mainly on observation from these high latitudes, and only in a few instances from personal acquaintance with their subjects. It is a strange life, that of the Press Gallery of the House of Commons, especially to one entering it after many years spent behind the purdah of the leader-writer, and quite as interesting as the life of the floor of the House or of the Terrace. Distinguished strangers in their gallery must often have noticed the row of men in the gallery opposite behind the Speaker's Chair, each in his little pew, and every one more oddly intellectual in appearance than the others. These are the Press Gallery journalists. Some are seen to be taking copious notes, and these are the reporters, pre-Raphaelite artists whose business it is to set down exactly what people say in the debate, improving its grammar, removing tautology, and making sense where this is lacking. Others write very little, but sit disdainfully observant, and these are the impressionists, who are there to make a study of the proceedings for indolent readers, and are called "sketch-writers." The reporters work in shifts of a quarter of an hour at a time, and the distinguished stranger opposite cannot have failed to notice the new shift enter by one or other of the two doors at the back of the gallery, each with its liveried Cerberus, tap the old shift on the shoulder, and take his place. People are always coming and leaving, but the disdainful impressionists go out oftener than they come in, for their art is that of rejection.

Through the doors there are two anti-chambers with telephone boxes, both leading into a room full of black oak desks, with deep corner seats covered with shiny leather in two corners, a post-office in another corner, and doors everywhere. Here there is always a buzz of voices comparing notes of the speeches, and checking doubtful passages; here, if a quotation has been made from the Latin classics (which happens about once a session), the passer-by who has been to Oxford is asked to verify and translate, and made to feel for a brief moment that the money his father spent . . .

Most of the essays in this volume have appeared serially in the columns of The Times, whose proprietors the author takes this opportunity of thanking for their permission to republish. Some additions have been made, but only to bridge the gulf between their first appearance and their present publication.

The essays on Mr. Lloyd George, on Lady Astor and Captain Elliot, and the introductory and final chapters, are now published for the first time.

I have to thank my friend, Mr. James Heddle, of Sir Edward Hulton's publications, for loans of photographs and for help in choosing them.

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