Following an invitation to attend a reception for small business owners at number 11 Downing street for myself and my wife we had the pleasure to meet with some very interesting people. The day started with a visit to Portcullis house to meet with Nick who showed us the inner workings of Westminster. As parliament was in session that day, it was the perfect opportunity to play spot the MP. The likes of Alistair Darling, David Blunkett, George Galloway and the Speaker of the House Mr Bercow to name but a few. We were also lucky enough to view a newly installed art exhibition based on Women in Politics.
Following the hustle of Westminster and just a short stroll across Whitehall we found ourselves outside the gates of Downing street. Heavily guarded, popular with tourists from around the world these gates are also known for their own recent controversy involving a bicycle a politician and a policeman. Once we had been checked off the list and our photo identification verified we were sent through to the security scanners. For the second time that day we had to be frisked however it was all very reassuring in this day and age. With all the security formalities out the way we were able to make our way down to number 11. As a child of the 70’s I recall being able to walk down the very same road and get a good look at Downing Street, but with the introduction of the security gates further up the road in 1989 the general public have been kept some distance away.
Downing street has been the official residences of both the Prime minister of the United kingdom and the Chancellor of the Exchequer for over three hundred years. The street itself was built in the 1680’s by a man called George Downing who intended the houses to be “for persons of good quality to inhabit.” Sir Christopher Wren was responsible for the design of Downing street however the houses were built quickly and cheaply leading Winston Churchill to quote that number 10 was “shaky and lightly built by the profiteering contractor whose name they bear.” It’s amazing to consider the history of a street with all it’s past occupants, who just like myself walked long the cobbles.
Once inside number 11 and with our mobile phones handed over for safe keeping we were invited upstairs into one of the reception rooms. Whilst ascending the stair case we were able to view the art work that graces the walls. Portraits of all the Chancellors of the Exchequer over the years highlight the history of British politics. The walls of the staircase are covered with political cartoons, caricatures and engravings. It is a tradition that each Chancellor gets to choose the cartoon he wants to represent him, whilst in number 10 Downing street the portraits are those of previous Prime Ministers.
The evening itself was one filled with free flowing drinks, canapés, conversations with other small business owners and our local MP Anne Marie Morris. Once George Osbourne had arrived he made his way round the room stopping to chat to individuals about their businesses and local projects such as the new Penn Inn roundabout and the Dawlish train line. With a photographer in tow we had the opportunity to have our photo taken before the evening ended with a speech from George Osborne in which he shared his admiration for the growing number of small businesses having a positive effect on the British economy. Something that is often over looked in favour of large organisations.
When the evening came to an end and we had retrieved our belongings the only thing left to do was pose for photos outside the doors of number 11 and 10 Downing street, although there was no sign of the Prime Minister, David Cameron or Larry the Cat.