Jamie Stone – how Churchill played a part in my route to the House of Commons
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Stone's Throw by MP Jamie Stone
Some readers may know this – I was brought up on a small dairy farm near Tain, and when I was about seven my parents started to make a soft cheese called Crowdie…
But that is merely an introductory explanation as to why in my early thirties I was on an aeroplane to London to sell cheese at the annual food fair at Olympia.
What? How did the air hostess know my name? She smiled and handed me a folded piece of paper.
“Mr Stone, this is for you.”
Quite startled by now, I unfolded the piece of paper and read within.
“Come and have supper with me in the House of Commons – your MP”.
The air hostess smiled and pointed to the rear of the plane. I turned round and looked. There was a smiling Charles Kennedy gently waving at me.
Two nights later my wife and I presented ourselves at the House of Commons. From the start I was absolutely awestruck.
Charles met us in what I now know to be the Central Lobby – and then he walked us to some stairs and down into a bar where everybody seemed to know him.
“I think a drop of bubbly is appropriate.” And within a twinkling of an eye, there was a bottle and three glasses on our table. The two of us tried desperately hard not to stare at the people around us. My God, there was the Tory MP David Mellor. Good grief, who was this coming in – nothing less than the former leader of the Labour party, Michael Foot!
Shortly afterwards, Charles walked us down a long corridor with lots of pictures to a dining room at the end, where a table to our left had been booked for us.
Steak and chips and happy chatter. And then Charles offered to show us the Chamber of the Commons which was now empty as the business of the House had concluded.
The night was warm, dark, and velvety and I’ve never forgotten its glow and background cheerful banter. It was then that it struck me, that’s what Parliament was all about – talking.
“We touch the toe of Churchill’s left shoe for luck and a wish,” said Charles outside the entrance to the Chamber. I looked at the toe – the sweat of a thousand superstitious fingers had polished it from bronze to gold.
At this point in writing this column, I pause for thought. Should I now for the first time tell the truth? Alright, I will. I myself touched that toe – and I made a wish. This is what it was: “I would so love to be an MP like Charles.”
Now, readers would be quite entitled to think that this is all a load of codswallop, but it really is true – my wish, as we know, did eventually come true. And it is my one great sadness that today Charles Kennedy is not here in the House of Commons with me.
I’m writing this column on a Tuesday from my office in the old Scotland Yard, the one you see Poirot visiting from time to time on the telly. Was Charles’s office anywhere near mine? I don’t know.
But I do know that it was the Stranger’s Bar he took us to, and the Churchill Dining Room after that. I often think of him when I go to either of these two places.
None of us are perfect and, yes, Charles had his demons – but in terms of decency in public life, I believe Charles set a very high standard. If I can come anywhere near that standard while I’m here in the House of Commons, then I’ll be doing okay.