Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Morning in Westminster

Sky News have just said "it's going to be a historic day". I began it by listening to the 5.00am news on BBC Radio Five. There was one story dominating the bulletin. After quickly changing I went for a walk, during which I recorded the following.

05.35 - I walked up Buckingham Gate. The sky is cloudy: it is cool, but not unpleasantly so. Past the Albanian Embassy. The UK is set to be the focus of the world's attention today.

05.40 Outside Buckingham Palace. The Royal Standard is flying. In a few hours time Queen Elizabeth will receive the resignation of her 10th Prime Minister and Gordon Brown will be invited to 'kiss hands'. At the moment all gates are closed. From the fountain of the Victoria Memorial I can see the clock of Big Ben. It is 5.45

I walk along the Mall - the route that both the outcoming and incoming Prime Ministers will take as they make their visits to Buckingham Palace later today. Huge British flags (the Union Jack) decorate this street. A reminder that today is a uniquely British occasion. This year is the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union which created the United Kingdom. Previously one King sat on two thrones - as King of Scotland and King of England. He had two governments. Today Queen Elizabeth will appoint a scotsman to be Britain's Prime Minister.

05.55 I spot the first joggers of the day. My route takes me off the Mall into St James Palace, to cut across to Horseguards Parade - and the back of Downing Street.

06.00 Big Ben strikes as I arrive at Horse Guards Parade - soon other bells across the city of Westminster are tolling. Behind a tall brick wall, flanked to the west by a row of TV vans, are the gardens of Downing Street. A large green van is parked by the Foreign Office - could it be a removal van?

When I was a teenager it was possible to walk from here into Downing Street. As was the fashion of the day (following the publication of a young Harold Wilson outside No 10), I had my picture taken in front of the famous door. It is no longer possible for the public to wander into Downing Street, but no doubt we will see many pictures of that door in the coming hours.

06.07 I cross Horse Guards Road to enter King Charles Street, which divides the Foreign and Commonwealth Office from the Treasury. The latter has been Gordon Brown's department for the last 10 years as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Now he will become First Lord of the Treasury, the official title taken by the Prime Minister. I get a brief glimpse of Downing Street through the gates of the FCO.

06.12 There is a crowd near the entrance to Downing Street - but they are not there to watch the comings and goings. Instead they are there to catch the 88 bus to Oxford Street and Camden Town or the 11 to Liverpool Street. A photographer with a short step ladder and a huge camera arrives at the gates to Downing Street. Already the camera lights are blazing within this famous close and a pack of photographers is already in place.

06.15 I bump into Hazel Blears and Paul Richards who have just left Downing Street. They both enjoyed yesterday evening's Fabian Society reception - and await an interesting day.

06.20 On Parliament Street occupants of the 'peace camp' are up and walking around. It looks as if a new banner is being prepared. I notice that at the southern end a new sign, on a bed sheet has gone up saying "Gordon: War is still the issue". Even from the gates into the Palace of Westminster the bright lights for the cameras on College Green can be seen.

06.28 I rest for a while at the railings near the Jewel Tower, the oldest surviving building from the original Palace of Westminster. (c 1365. Although Westminster Hall was originally built in 1099, it was rebuilt in 1397-99 incorporating the original walls)

On College Green cameramen and presenters are preparing for the early morning outside broadcasts. In the BBC Radio Wales tent the presenter was working his way through a pile of the morning's newspapers. A stream of photographers with their stepladders pass me - presumably to join the throng in Downing Street

06.40 Back at the 'peace camp' work continues on constructing the new banner.

06.45 I buy copies of the Guardian ('Blair exits British politics as new era begins with a Tory defection') and the Independent ('Gordon Brown answers Your Questions').

06.50 Enter the parliamentary estate by way of 1 Parliament Street. In Portcullis House the cleaners are busily preparing the Atrium for what is sure to be an extraordinary parliamentary day.