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First-day-at-school vibe in Westminster as Labour regime arrives in town

Hundreds of brand new MPs descended on parliament this week after the election

Prime minister Keir Starmer poses for a photograph in Westminster with Dawn Butler after a photocall with Labour Party MPs, some of whom had won seats for the first time. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

There was a first-day-at-school vibe around the Westminster parliamentary estate on Monday as many of the 334 brand new MPs showed up to get their access passes and look around. Yet for others, school was out and not just for summer.

The Conservative Party’s Steve Baker, the former minister of state at the Northern Ireland office, lost his seat in Wycombe in last week’s election. This week he was back to clear out his offices as all around him beneath the colonnades along the edge of New Palace Yard hordes of fresh-faced new Labour MPs milled around like tourists.

Baker is sometimes teased over his moniker as the Tory party’s self-styled “Brexit hard man”. Yet that wasn’t his demeanour on Monday after he had made his six staff redundant. The strain of it was written across his face. The brutality of an election defeat comes in many guises.

He was sanguine about his future, which is almost certain to be outside politics and back in the private sector. His wife is a doctor. He has an RAF pension. Baker won’t starve.


Yet he still had one gripe, however wry and jocular it was: “The new Taoiseach [Simon Harris] and Keir Starmer keep talking about trying to ‘reset’ British-Irish relations. I thought I had done that already. Didn’t I? Come on, you must agree...”

Baker was the Tory who apologised to the Republic from the stage of his party’s 2022 autumn conference over Britain’s Brexit muscularity towards its neighbour. It contributed to a genuine thaw in relations that opened the way for the Windsor Framework deal six months later. Baker no longer has his Westminster seat or his political career. But he’ll always have that.

At the other end of the colonnade, through the dark pedestrian tunnel that goes beneath Bridge Street and up the escalators towards the light, was the airy atrium of Portcullis House, the modern wing of the parliamentary estate. Here more of the incoming MPs and those they defeated crossed paths on the concourse between the Westminster canteens.

Hannah Bardell, the Scottish National Party’s former MP for Livingston, was philosophical about her election loss. “Such is life,” she said cheerily. The SNP’s Westminster battering was even more devastating than the Tory party’s. It must regroup quickly if it is to avoid further disaster at Scotland’s next devolved parliamentary elections in 2026.

Labour’s Emily Thornberry, who won her election battle but lost her place on Starmer’s front bench, fielded sympathetic greetings from party colleagues. At the weekend she was inexplicably passed over by the new prime minister for the role of attorney general, which she had held in a shadow capacity. “I’m all right,” she said, as stunned colleagues consoled her.

Liam Conlon, the new Labour MP for the south London seat of Beckenham and Penge and for the last few years the head of his party’s Irish society, walked around the corner. Conlon, whose mother is Sue Gray, a top adviser to the new prime minister, said he had blisters on his feet from the election. He also had a twinkle in his eye. Hanging around his neck was his first Westminster access pass. It may as well have been an Olympic medal the way he was eyeing it up.

He wasn’t alone. The pass office, which is normally based in a cramped facility a few doors up Whitehall, had set up a mobile unit inside Westminster Hall, near the spot where Queen Elizabeth had lain in state in advance of her funeral in 2022. Giddy new Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs queued to get their access card at the “new members’ reception area”.

Another temporary desk had been set up inside Portcullis House: “Temporary locker allocation”. Westminster also ran a buddy system, pairing new MPs with a member of parliamentary estate staff – it could be a clerical officer or a cook – to give them a tour of the facility. They could be spotted a mile off, showing them the essentials such as ATM and vending machines. The new MPs stood out with the green and white-striped lanyards around their necks holding those precious, hard-won Westminster passes.

A few hundred metres up the road at Downing Street two large removal vans were parked outside Number 10. Workers carried furniture out the front door and loaded it into the vans. The items must have belonged either to Rishi Sunak, the defeated Tory former prime minister whose office was in Number 10, or Jeremy Hunt, the former chancellor of the exchequer who lived in the flat upstairs.

A new regime was in town. Out with the old.