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The Red Benches

A poem by Jenny Tonge, member of the House of Lords, about her workplace

Image CC UK Parliament


There's a breathless hush in the House just now.
The gossip ends and Garter appears
Unsteady in gear, too heavy to walk,
A new peer arrives to swear his oath,
With sponsors resplendent.


Packed to the rafters the Peers forgather,
A motley crew specifically chosen,
Like prime beef for the table or chickens for the pot
It would be cruel to think whether true or not,
Of turkeys for Christmas.


A loveable place this hall with red benches
Reviled by so many but dreamt of by others,
“The best club in England”, some say with great glee,
Others just see it as a great place for tea,
Dinner is better.


All sorts of conditions of 'men' on the benches,
Unsure why they're there, though some know full well.
The money bags rattled and whoosh they were in
Others are there 'cos they committed no sin?
Bemused and some old.


There are sleepers and talkers and people who text,
Busy people who cannot stay still for a minute.
The sleepers look peaceful slumped in their place,
Like old bodies discarded, waiting for grace
Dreaming of youth and love.


There's the military men from past glory and war,
Straight backs and discipline still ruling their lives.
Always obedient answering the whip
Capable sometimes of elegant quips,
Trying still to matter.


There's retired politicians from years in the place
That's always called ‘other’, for some reason or other,
Trying so hard to adopt the new style,
Of courtesy, politeness, and absence of guile.
Bored by the lack of power.


The bishops, heavenly host, a flock of white geese,
Splendid and pure in their flowing white frocks
But actually caring and raising those issues,
That matter to poor and the sick in their flocks.
True advocates of grace.


Every skill and profession is here on the benches.
The greatest and good that a nation can muster?
From commerce and industry, science and arts
Lawyers and experts dispensing much wisdom -
The word for this chamber.


Experience, memory and most of all wisdom,
Is here all around in the hall of red benches.
Refining, amending, making sense of the stuff,
That the rosy cheeked boys in the other place push.
Be thankful oh plebs for the grace of this chamber,
The Red Benches.




‘Garter’ is Garter King of Arms who wears the most amazing tabard encrusted with gold and carries a heavy gold rod at 45 degrees before him.


The ‘Other Place’ is how we have to refer to the House of Commons. Why?


The ‘rosy cheeked boys’ are Cameron, Clegg et al.


The ‘plebs’ are me really, and whoever else is proud to be one.



Jenny Tonge

About the Writer

Jenny worked as a doctor in the UK's National Health Service for over 30 years before serving as Member of Parliament for Richmond Park from 1997 to 2005, when she was elevated to the House of Lords. She now sits as an independent Liberal Democrat and is co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health.


Image CC Keith Edkins


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