The Palace, commonly known as The Houses of Parliament, is the meeting place of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The first royal palace was the King’s primary residence until 1512 and the home of Parliament until the 1834 fire devastated the site which led to Sir Charles Barry’s creation of the new Houses of Parliament.
German bombing during the World War II Blitzkrieg completely destroyed The Commons whilst a bomb went through The Lords without exploding. King George VI opened the rebuilt Commons in 1950.
Since 1721, 53 Prime Ministers have served The House of Commons, with Sir Robert Walpole considered the first (and longest serving) Prime Minister, having led the Government for 21 years until 1742.
Various attacks on the House and its members notoriously include the 1605 Gunpowder Plot which would have destroyed the Palace, killed the King and most of the aristocracy. Other bombings occurred in 1885 and 1974, whilst in 1979 a car bomb killed prominent politician Airey Neave.
Over the years, leaflets, tear gas canisters, bags of flour and even horse manure have been tossed into the Commons Chamber.
Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval, was even assassinated (1812), whilst on a less extreme occasion (1976), Shadow Industry Secretary (later Deputy Prime Minister) Michael Heseltine notoriously seized the Ceremonial Mace during heated debate and threatened Labour benches.
But it was another Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, who earned a bigger reputation. Controversy, incident, scandal and gaffes were never far away from this bluff, plain speaking and colourful individual who wielded vast influence and power.
Seemingly a blunt Yorkshireman, John Leslie Prescott was actually born in North Wales (1938). He entered Parliament in 1970 and represented Hull for forty years. In 1994 he became Labour Deputy Leader; and after Blair’s runaway 1997 election victory he was appointed Deputy PM and head of the newly created ‘super’ Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions.
Most famously, perhaps, is Prescott’s “Rumble in Rhyl” – the former amateur boxer responding to an egg throwing protestor during the 2001 election campaign with a straight left to the jaw.
He resigned as Deputy PM in 2007, retired as MP in 2010 and entered the House of Lords as “Baron Prescott, of Kingston upon Hull in the County of East Yorkshire”; he may not be a Yorkshireman but he is certainly a man of Yorkshire.
I was privileged to meet John on a number of occasions. Over a chat and a drink (which we had just launched officially in The Houses of Parliament) I challenged him and several other MPs to play darts. They all willingly volunteered and so history was made as the Deputy PM played three-time World Champion John Lowe in The Palace of Westminster. Figuratively speaking it brought the House down … something Guy Fawkes could not do.