This afternoon President Obama became the first U.S. President to address both Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall.
The 11th century building has seen many historic moments – the trials of William Wallace, Guy Fawkes & King Charles I, the lyings-in-state of Winston Churchill and the Queen Mother. On each of these occasions others were present, whether it be the Lords of the land baying for blood or the great British public filing past in sombre tribute.
While President Obama’s speech was undoubtably a point in time worthy of joining these moments, this time the others present detracted from the occasion, rather than adding to it.
The sight of MPs, in some cases literally, jumping over each other to get a handshake from the President was embarrassing at best, vomit inducing at worst. It is a sad fact that in the memoirs of the Westminster politicians present today shaking the hand of the ‘Leader of the Free World’ fill form the denouement of their life, political or otherwise.
Yes, he is a political rock star. Yes, these occasions come but once. And yes, just touching him can make the blind see, the deaf hear and Ken Clarke awake from slumber . But please, have a little decorum. You are elected politicians, there to serve the people, debate the laws of the land and occasionally, very occasionally, get on the six o’clock news.
You are not there to get a handshake with the President, no matter how much you bribe the Speaker.
Scottish Tory MP David Mundell, for example, will never wash his right hand again after jumping over three rows of chairs and giving Black Rod a dead leg just to thrust his sweaty palm towards the President.
Floella Benjamin, a Lib Dem peer, went one further by hugging the President which she later gushed about on Twitter.
I half expected to see some MP with a slim majority go for the full fist bump just to put it on there next Parliamentary report.
The speech itself was thoughtful with references to the shared history of the United States and United Kingdom, many quotes from FDR and Churchill and delivered with the oratorical skill that we now expect from President Obama but seldom get at home.
And that is the rub. Our politicians swoon over the President of the United States with his 26 car motorcade and rush for a handshake with him as though they will, by osmosis, soak up some of his charisma and apparent wisdom.
But perhaps if our MPs spent more time trying to craft their own message in a thoughtful and deliberate manner, and less time admiring those who can already reach the wider audience every politician craves, then we may have a fighting chance at raising the standard of debate in this country.
MPs should take more than a handshake away from today. They should take what they learned in Westminster Hall to the town halls in their constituencies and try to re-connect with voters who do not value politics nearly as much as voters do in the U.S.
It will take much more than a handshake from political royalty to achieve that.