Entering Portcullis House, on the other hand, you can’t fail to notice a sharp-suited, up-and-thrusting building with a keen sense of its own importance. Beneath the trendy glass-and-metal dome (resembling the Eden Project not a little, thanks to the fig trees planted in the atrium), MPs and special advisers dash to and fro, clutching coffee and checking their phones. It is here that you can be called to give evidence to a select committee, jostled on the elevator by MPs caught up in the thrill of it all (‘Don’t you know there’s a bloody vote on?’) or find yourself losing a staring match to a vaguely terrifying Margaret Thatcher (Henry Mee, oil on canvas). Compared with the calm stateliness of the Commons and Lords, Portcullis House manages to seem at once both achingly self-aware and not aware at all. In the upper levels, however, behind the glossy wooden doors guarded by paintings of former prime ministers, select committees work tirelessly to gather information about all facets of modern life, from high-speed rail to big companies sharing customer data. To sit in on one of these sessions is to observe how scrupulously MPs work to build a clear picture from the mass of data presented to them with the eminently laudable goal of better informing both their fellow members and the government as it pursues its legislative agenda.
Those with an interest in UK history, architecture and politics will not fail to be excited and inspired when visiting Westminster. But it’s important that everyone else come too, if only once, so that they can see how within this bizarre collision of Gothic splendour and modern, digital angst the people that we vote for strive to shape our country, for better or worse.