Late night musings on parliament and doing jury service from the Ealing North Labour MP Stephen Pound :
And so it’s business as usual here at Westminster even though there is a distinct feeling that many of my colleagues still have sand in their shoes and there are more than a few beetroot faces bearing witness to the unexpectedly sunny summer.
Although the work of an MP goes on without a break there is a rhythm to the Parliamentary timetable and the House was packed on Monday for the latest on the ‘phone tapping scandal and then the first reading of a bulging portmanteau Bill that intends to change the voting system and reduce the number of constituencies.
Poor Nick Clegg did his best from the front bench but yet again the deepening divisions in the Coalition of Convenience yawned wide and even more Tories voted with Labour rather than go through the lobbies with their former deadly enemies in yellow.
Days and days of debate stretch ahead and I can’t be the only person who feels that it is hardly the best use of Parliamentary time to obsess about our own circumstances while the entire economy teeters on the brink of a collapse as dramatic as anything seen recently at Lords.
Already the first company failure has come as the evenings draw in. Connaught are a housing maintenance and management company who offered considerable savings – 30% in the case of Norwich Council – but who have now called in the administrators and look unlikely to last the day.
They identify government cuts to social housing as the direct and specific cause of the collapse and this dramatically illustrates the consequences of brutal cuts that have the potential to actually worsen the situation. That potential is now reality.
Instead of giving our all to help the ten thousand employees of Connaught plc we drone on for hours about proportional representation and wonder why the public turn their faces away in despair.
One reason why I am delighted to be back at the gas-works is that I have just completed the most mindnumbingly tedious two weeks of jury service and, frankly, anything would be an improvement.
Here’s how it works.
One the first day nearly two hundred of us turned up at the Crown Court and listened to a pretty impressive introduction to the work and organisation of the Court.
We were then told that jurors would be called out by random allocation and batches of fourteen of us would be shepherded to one of the thirteen courts where twelve would be chosen as the jury.
Excitement rippled round the room and we were told that we would be deciding cases in every class of crime except murder.
I couldn’t wait to get in there but sat all day on Monday reading Peter Mandelson’s diaries and feeling a right wallflower.
Bright and early I clocked in on Tuesday. Nothing happened all morning but I had a most pleasant feta cheese salad for lunch and had got to Peter’s second exit from the Cabinet when I was sent home- or off to Westminster in my case - late in the afternoon.
Pie, beans and chips for lunch on Wednesday. Finished Peter Mandelson.Nobody wanted me. Felt seriously unloved. Mounds of work building up in the office but I was at Craven Cottage where the mighty Whites raised my sunken spirits with a classically elegant destruction of, er, Port Vale.
Thursday? Vegetable curry. No action. Caught up with the work in the office.
Friday? Got called! Off to the jury room. Sat and waited. Waited a bit longer. Waited for another half hour. Told the defendant had pleaded guilty and that we weren’t wanted. Back to what was fast resembling an airport departure lounge during the time of the Icelandic volcano.
Let go. Back to the office.
Monday was a Bank Holiday. My fellow would be juror Jaspal said that we would have to come in on the following Monday to make up our ten days duty. Reader – I believed him!
Sid - the emperor or organisation at the court – put me right. Four more days to go and Tony Blair’s book was due out so I wouldn’t be bored.
Toastie for lunch and I saw off Ali Campbell and two thrillers.
Found the 2001 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records and a group of us had fun guessing how many cockroaches someone could get up their nose nine years ago.
Wednesday? Crept like a snail unwillingly to court with four magazines, two books, a pack of cards and a mobile ‘phone that worked. Got called!
Way hay – off we go!
Actually saw the inside of a court. Took the oath! Found a plastic folder, pencils and paper in front of me and was told that I could take notes but that they couldn’t be taken out of the court room. I was taking this really, really seriously and not allowing my opinion of the witnesses to be formed by their appearance. Couple of “points of law” caused the court to be cleared while the Judge and barristers sorted things out.
Spotted someone who looked remarkably like the defence counsel having a fag outside in the smoking area. Back in the court room and the defendant’s statement is read out by a police officer.
Then it all goes Pete Tong.
Due to a catastrophic error some very damaging detail of the defendant’s history area read out in court.
Case collapses. Jury discharged. Back to the departure lounge at Stansted.
And that was it.
To be fair there were only a couple of us who didn’t get called at all and those who did make it through the door all told me that they felt proud to have “done their bit”. Would that I had had the chance!
One slight problem occurred when I set off the security alarm and they found a couple of AK47 shell cases in my briefcase. I did explain that I had been in Nagorno Karabakh where the ground is still littered with spent NATO rounds and 9mm casings and they believed me. Tales of my Armenian adventures must wait for another day but this is written at midnight on Tuesday after three late votes and there is much to do before I succumb to the lure of the westbound A40.
Reproduced with the kind permission of Stephen Pound from an original article published in the Ealing Gazette
September 8, 2010