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City Hall was designed by Norman Foster in 2002, and is home to the Greater London Authority (comprising the London Assembly and Mayor of London’s office).
This review originally appeared in his London blog
I thought I’d drop in to City Hall today and see what the Mayor is up to. It’s quite an imposing little building that looks a bit too official for the likes of you and me. It’s all glass and steel and big revolving doors with big security guards standing behind. Are you really allowed in there? Will I get told off if I walk through the door? You end up milling around outside for five minutes as you watch all the suited politician-types enter with their briefcases and phones.
You can see the security guards frisking everyone inside the window, and worry that you’ll get arrested if you step across the threshold. But of course you have nothing to worry about. Just go inside, the security guard was actually quite nice and happily answered all of my dumb questions (can I take photos? where can I go?). If they let scruffy urchins like me inside, then you’ll nothing to worry about.
I quite like the building, although lots of people don’t. At least they’ve made an effort to be original. Most of the stuff that goes up these days is just a brick and concrete box. They all look exactly the same, like they’ve picked it from a catalogue. But can you name another building that looks anything like City Hall? Nope. It is a one-off. And it’s even more peculiar once you get inside because, instead of stairs, it’s got a big ramp that runs around the interior of the window, giving you great views of Tower Bridge and the Tower of London as you wind your way around the floors.
Unfortunately you are only allowed to go up to the second floor though, where the council chamber sits. Everything above that is out of bounds to the public. Apparently there was a time when you could wander all the way up to the roof onto the balcony. But the Mayor put paid to that to save a bit of money. So the second floor is as high as you can go now.
There’s not a lot to see inside. There was no meeting on when I went, so I was stuck outside the council chamber peering in at the seats. In the basement they’ve got an exhibition space, but that was empty too. They’ve got a huge satellite image of London superimposed on the floor, so I suppose you could try and find your house if you were truly bored.
They’ve got a little cafe downstairs too, which was actually quite interesting. You can sit amongst the politician-types as they natter on their phones and punch buttons on their laptops. The ones that I sat next to had folders as big as the Bible, and were flicking through them to find facts and figures about some policy that no one is interested in. Arguing the toss about who’s right and who’s wrong, all whilst munching on their egg and sausage sandwiches. I wonder if the Mayor comes down there for lunch? Maybe he does.
This review originally appeared in his London blog
I went back to City Hall again today to see if I could spot Boris Johnson at Mayor’s Question Time. This is the big monthly meeting where all the London Assembly members get to harangue him for a couple of hours. They only hold it once a month and the date changes every month, so it’s not the easiest of things to visit. And it’s right slap bang in the middle of the day as well (10 AM to 12 noon), on a weekday, but it’s well worth doing if you can get the time off work.
I got a bit unlucky with the buses today because it took me half-an-hour to get to City Hall from Waterloo, so when I bundled in past security and up to the second floor (I know where I’m going now) the chamber was already full to bursting. It was only 10 minutes past the start, but the doors were already shut to newcomers.
Luckily they still let you stand outside and peer in through the windows, so you can still see the Mayor and what’s going on inside. They’ve got a big TV outside too so the sound is piped out to the nobodies who couldn’t get in (ie. me). It’s a bit like turning up at London Zoo, only to find that the animals won’t come out to play. You are standing there with your nose pressed up against the glass, trying to get a peek of the prize exhibits inside.
So take a tip from me – if you are going to visit then turn up in plenty of time (it usually starts at 10 AM, so get there by half-9). Luckily you don’t have to wait too long on the outside, because as soon as a few people get bored and leave they let you in to take up their places. So within about half-an-hour I was through the door. I still couldn’t sit down though. I was with all the second-class citizens standing at the back. It was another hour before I finally managed to sit down. That gives you some idea about how busy it was. It wasn’t until the final 30 minutes that the place started emptying out.
I am guessing that there were probably about 250 seats in total, most of which were taken up by students. A good 90% of the crowd looked like they were there for a school lesson… paper pads on knees, biro sticking out the mouths, looking bored and waiting for the playtime bell to ring. There were also a few press-men waiting for a tasty sentence or two for their papers. At one point about fifteen kids from a local primary school turned up and got a mention from the chair. All the politicans turned around and waved at them! (You don’t get that happening in the House of Commons.)
Boris looked, sounded and acted exactly as you’d expect him to… all his language and mannerisms were 100% present and correct. His trademark messy hair had a tufty lump of locks escaping out the side of his head. And his flat top made him look dangerously like Donald Trump from a distance. I’m sure it must have taken him ages to get it looking that messy – it’s almost too messy. I think he must have it styled like that by an expensive barber.
You had to feel a bit sorry for him though, sitting there isolated at the front while they were all trying to do their best to trip him up and trick him into saying something stupid. But don’t worry though, because our hero Boris was more than capable of holding his own against all those nasty politicians. All he had to do when it got a bit lively was trot out a witty one-liner and everyone was smiling again. He did crack quite a few funny lines, he let loose a few flowery speeches, and he was surprisingly combative when it came to arguing his case. He certainly didn’t mind talking over people and raising his voice if he disagreed. But most of the time he was totally serious, as you would expect. It was all politics and policies, most of which washed straight over this layman’s head.
The chamber is arranged for maximum uncomfortableness for the Mayor. He is all on his own in a solitary seat at the front, whilst a horseshoe table of politicians stretches out around him. They’ve even got two big TVs off to the side with a couple of close-ups of his face, so there really is no escape. The spotlights are on him. Like a Gestapo interrogation.
The meeting overran a little bit so he ended up rushing out at 12:45. I thought it would have been fantastic if the meeting ended with him ascending up the spiral staircase to his office at the top, with everyone standing down below applauding and cheering him as he tapered off into the distance, but alas, it was a lot more boring than that. He just scooped up his school rucksack from behind the lectern, roughly stuffed his folders into it, and disappeared out the back in the blink of an eye.
> Read Craig’s latest review of City Hall “If truth be told I’m more scared of coming in here than I am of Parliament, because there are always plenty of tourists walking around Parliament but in here, not so much. If you want to blend in then you have to be carrying a folder full of papers or a briefcase or a laptop bag, because the kind of people who come in here actually have work to do – they have jobs (urgh!). I can see them queuing up at the desk to sign in for a meeting, see them waiting patiently for a chaperone to take them upstairs, see them punching numbers into their phone, punching their buddies as they talk excitedly about tonight, see them peering through glass doors, fiddling with their tie, fiddling with their hair, fiddling their expenses… continued.”
> Read Craig’s latest review of Mayor’s Question Time “Mayor’s Question Time has fallen a bit flat since Boris Johnson left. I used to like watching him because he was funny – he used to slip in a few jokes and anecdotes and liven it up a bit. But the mayor we’ve got now is much more of a shiny shoes and smart suit kinda-guy. He fires off a stats attack and bamboozles you with data. Mayor’s Question Time is held once a month at City Hall. It’s usually in the middle of the month but they change the date around all over the place so you have to check their website first. If you want to grab a seat then you need to get there early. And I don’t mean 4 o’clock in the morning – that is too early. Half past nine should be fine… continued.”
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If you enjoy visiting Mayor’s Question Time at City Hall, then how about attending a debate in the House of Commons, House of Lords, or Prime Minister’s Questions? You can also go and watch the Lord Mayor at the Common Council in Guildhall. Check out our guide to political events and political attractions in London for more good ideas.
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