Thursday, September 01, 2011

Allez, juste pour vous, un article qui n'a rien à voir avec ma thèse mais qui me fait bien rire.

The Guardian (London) - Final Edition

December 15, 2004

Four cabinet ministers, three world leaders and a fox - a day in the life of 10 Downing Street

BYLINE: Oliver Burkeman

One of the strangest things about Britain's most famous front door is this: the vast majority of the time, the eyes of the world aren't on it at all. "I wouldn't say I switch off, exactly," said the solitary police officer guarding No 10 Downing Street - the man whose job it would be to hold back the hordes of television cameras, if there were any. "I prefer to say I'm like a coiled spring."

The glossy black door with the wonky zero is perhaps the pre-eminent icon of our political culture, the backdrop to a hundred handshakes between a grinning prime minister and visiting leaders. But the few high-profile images we see each week tell only half the story, and almost nobody is watching the other half. So yesterday the Guardian monitored the comings and goings for one full, frenetic day.

It may reaffirm your faith in British democracy to learn that all of the following came through (or at least up to the doorstep of) the same door over that time: four cabinet ministers, three world leaders, two senior European diplomats, a few dozen schoolchildren, a handful of vintage car enthusiasts, many large saucepans, a former BBC director general, the dry cleaning, a seemingly endless supply of upmarket sandwiches, and Ian Paisley.

The hinges start swinging early. It is still dark, at about 7.25am, when Godric Smith, the prime minister's official spokesman, shows up on his bicycle, clad in a fetching tracksuit that appears - by the light of the moon, anyway - to be pastel-coloured. It is an impressively early start to the day for Mr Smith, though not as impressive as that of his boss, the director of communications, David Hill, who can be glimpsed already inside. Both, however, make it to work earlier than the street sweeper, who turns up minutes later with a miniature dustcart, brushing away the needles from the vast Christmas tree adorning the prime minister's residence. (The first politician to make an appearance is Tessa Jowell, the culture secretary, who draws up in a silver Rover at 8.50am.)

There is something weirdly jarring in the contrast between the physical reality of the No 10 door and the celebrity status it has acquired. The academics and business people arriving for a breakfast meeting with the prime minister, to discuss city academies, seem amazed that they can freely pose in front of it, on the step like Tony and Cherie, without being hustled away.

On leaving shortly after 9am, though, they declare themselves underwhelmed by the food - "Fruit, mainly," says one. Nobody notices as Stephen Twigg, the schools minister, wanders out into the chilly air as if he is waiting for someone. Fifteen minutes later, he wanders back inside.

The police officers guarding the gates that seal Downing Street from public access wipe sleep from their eyes and rattle their automatic rifles.

The pace of well-known arrivals soon picks up: by early afternoon, Cherie Blair has left No 10, while John Prescott, Jack Straw, and the beleaguered home secretary, David Blunkett, have all arrived - although none of their departments, nor Downing Street, will reveal what they came to discuss.

But around half of all the entrances and exits are for reasons far more mundane. As well as deliveries of dry cleaning and Marks & Spencer sandwiches, there are the early edition of the London Evening Standard, a gift of two bottles of wine, and Royal Mail deliveries that a cynic might suggest were rather more frequent and well-organised than those enjoyed by the rest of the population.

You also see a highly disproportionate number of very desirable car licence plates. At 11.30, the Dutch ambassador arrives in a limousine bearing the licence plate NL1, to discuss the forthcoming EU council meeting with Kim Darroch, the prime minister's EU adviser. Minutes later, the Slovenian ambassador follows suit, with SLO 1A.

Shortly after noon, the pupils of St Mary's primary school, Morecambe Bay, arrive to pose on the steps - a brilliant potential photo opportunity for Mr Blair, but he is nowhere to be seen.

Next, Matthew Taylor, Downing Street's head of policy, leaves the building, which is confusing, at first, since he already did so a couple of hours previously and does not appear to have re-entered in the interim. In fact, though, there are at least two alternative entrances to 10 Downing Street, a fact that media-avoiding cabinet ministers have long exploited to their advantage. At 12.25pm, John Birt, the former BBC director general now working for No 10, leaves too.

At 2pm, a delegation of MPs from the All-Party Parliamentary Historic Vehicles Club arrives to deliver a petition about the taxation of historic vehicles. Mysteriously, the prime minister does not greet them on the doorstep.

By 3pm, the photographers and camera crews are beginning to gather in preparation for the appearance of Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, resulting in a media encampment temporarily hijacked by Ian Paisley, whose thoughts on his meeting with Mr Blair seem of little interest to the Italian press. Mr Berlusconi and his entourage arrive late, slamming the doors of their 4x4s with ostentatious loudness, and there on the step, for the first time today, is Mr Blair, his smile unrelenting and his hand outstretched.

The same welcome is extended, over the course of the evening, to Ilham Aliev, the president of Azerbaijan, but not, soon afterwards, to a visiting fox, possibly stopping by to convey its gratitude for the government's hunting ban. Gerhard Schroder, the German chancellor, follows at 8.20pm.

But from the perspective of an entire day at Downing Street, these three key events seem like little more than an epilogue to many hours of frantic activity. By mid-evening, things are settling down - and somewhere, presumably, Godric Smith is reaching for his tracksuit.

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