Selfies, tours, and the chicken queue: What new MPs did on their first day at Westminster

Westminster is back, but a lot of MPs aren’t.

With the new MPs arriving to Westminster on Monday, it felt like a first day of school.

Instead of the usual people greeting each other, the room was filled with new faces, with MPs, journalists, and staffers alike craning their necks to work out who’s who, scrambling to recognise the new intake for 2024.

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It was a day of introductions, guesswork, and ultimately dejection for the huge number of former MPs collecting their things having lost their seats. But it was also one of excitement, with grinning new MPs hugging each other, but also looking pretty lost. Thankfully, parliament staff were on hand to help.

The four new Green MPs who won seats in the 2024 General Election, (left to right) Sian Berry (MP for Brighton Pavilion), party co-leader Carla Denyer (MP for Bristol Central), party co-leader Adrian Ramsay (MP for Waveney Valley) and Ellie Chowns (MP for North Herefordshire) pose for photos on College Green opposite the Palace of Westminster, London. Picture date: Monday July 8, 2024.The four new Green MPs who won seats in the 2024 General Election, (left to right) Sian Berry (MP for Brighton Pavilion), party co-leader Carla Denyer (MP for Bristol Central), party co-leader Adrian Ramsay (MP for Waveney Valley) and Ellie Chowns (MP for North Herefordshire) pose for photos on College Green opposite the Palace of Westminster, London. Picture date: Monday July 8, 2024.
The four new Green MPs who won seats in the 2024 General Election, (left to right) Sian Berry (MP for Brighton Pavilion), party co-leader Carla Denyer (MP for Bristol Central), party co-leader Adrian Ramsay (MP for Waveney Valley) and Ellie Chowns (MP for North Herefordshire) pose for photos on College Green opposite the Palace of Westminster, London. Picture date: Monday July 8, 2024.

Nowhere was this clearer than Portcullis House (PCH), the central hub of Westminster, housing its main cafeteria and communal area.MPs arriving were greeted with an array of stalls offering information to help them get settled, with Commons staff ready to field their every question.

For MPs unsure where their office is or what to do with their things, there was temporary locker stand to house their belongings. More importantly, especially for the more affluent new member, was a booth the register of members financial interests. Given the number of lobbying scandals that have engulfed previous parliaments, this was an essential.

There was also help by the PCH restaurant, with a member of staff funneling the queue, telling new staffers and MPs they need a tray, and yes they can skip the line if they don’t want the chicken. In short, it felt like a freshers fayre, or the first day at school.

Then there were the MPs themselves, or rather, the former MPs who lost their seats. PCH has always been a hub of activity, a place to see who’s talking to who, which MP is meeting with that journalist, who’s looking to talk. But on the first day of a new parliament, it also brought with it the glum frowns of those packing up their things, and those not letting go.

Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer poses for a selfie with Dawn Butler, MP for Brent EastPrime Minister Sir Keir Starmer poses for a selfie with Dawn Butler, MP for Brent East
Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer poses for a selfie with Dawn Butler, MP for Brent East

Jonathan Gullis, the former Tory deputy chairman was one of many Conservatives to be ousted, and had been a permanent fixture in PCH, forever briefing journalists. He was seen on Monday sharing a joke with fellow Tories who’d also lost at one of the communal tables, before being joined by the SNP’s David Linden. Opponents across the floor, they now have something in common.

Departures were everywhere you looked. Dame Priti Patel consoling Maria Caulfield by the cafe. Former Minister for the Cabinet Office Damian Green having a farewell coffee with friends. Tory MP Paul Bristow wandering looking sad.

Even the staffers, who are an unspoken part of MPs losing their jobs, were everywhere carrying cardboard boxes and bin bags as they packed up. Politics is brutal, and the handover is immediate.

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Even those who did win didn’t look happy, not least SNP MP Brendan O’Hara who was spotted speaking to the SNP press team. The SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn was also not smiling, understandably, and looked incredibly busy as he toured around the estate. There is work to be done.

Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer (centre front) stands with Labour Party MPs, some of whom won seats in the 2024 General Election, at Church House in Westminster, central London.Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer (centre front) stands with Labour Party MPs, some of whom won seats in the 2024 General Election, at Church House in Westminster, central London.
Prime Minister Sir Keir Starmer (centre front) stands with Labour Party MPs, some of whom won seats in the 2024 General Election, at Church House in Westminster, central London.

For both the SNP and Tories, the rebuild begins immediately, something not lost on Robert Jenrick, an MP best known for ordering cartoon murals be painted over at an immigration detention centre for being “too welcoming”. Now sporting a short haircut, he loitered around the escalators up from the entrance, charming Tory MPs who entirely unrelatedly will soon be voting in a leadership contest.

Off campus, there was more excitement to be found. On College Green, where the media conduct interviews, the Green Party were having a celebration of winning four MPs with activists from New Green Deal Rising. Attempting to speak with new MP Siân Berry, it takes time not just due to her other media commitments, but people literally coming over from the street to congratulate her.

She told me: “It’s really great to be there, and I bumped into some nearby candidates from Sussex who I’ve been on the debates with on local radio and television.

“It’s like the first day of school really, working out who to be friends with and who’s going to be working on the same issues this year. What have we got in common, I might be from a different party but there’s no reason I can’t work with anybody to save a park, or make sure that the sewage stops going in our sea.”

The Green Party's four new MPs celebrate with activists from Green New Deal Rising on College Green.The Green Party's four new MPs celebrate with activists from Green New Deal Rising on College Green.
The Green Party's four new MPs celebrate with activists from Green New Deal Rising on College Green.

Concluding our chat, we talk about parliament’s restaurants, and after I advise which one is best, she asks instead which is “fastest”. The work starts now.

For the returning MPs, the feeling is more of confusion, knowing the Commons, but now having to guess who is who, with more than one telling me there are too many new MPs to remember, and they need to study the new book showcasing them to have any chance of remembering.

Scottish Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael says: “After 23 years I am back to the position where the House of Commons is populated by people I don't know, representing seats I've never heard of.”

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He’s not alone in this, with every interaction punctuated by a “do you want me to introduce you”, or “I think that was X”.

The biggest shock of all comes from the Labour MPs, who are obviously in a delighted mood, but still can’t quite believe it.

Briefly chatting with Michael Shanks, returned in Rutherglen and Hamilton West, he parts ways by gesturing at the time, beckoning his new colleague, and saying “we don’t want to be late for the Prime Minister”. How things change.

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