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Obama-mania
26/05/2011 21:58:00

 
 

This afternoon, President Obama addressed members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords and their guests in Westminster Hall.

He started with a great line:

"I have known few greater honours than the opportunity to address the Mother of Parliaments at Westminster Hall. I am told the last three speakers here have been the Pope, Her Majesty the Queen and Nelson Mandela...which is either a very high bar or the beginning of a very funny joke" (maybe you had to be there...)

Generally though It was a pretty serious speech dealing with the economic crisis and foreign affairs. The most moving section was towards the end, where he dealt with the issue of national identity in multi-racial societies and referenced his own origins:

“There is one final quality that I believe makes the United States and the United Kingdom indispensible to this moment in history. And that is how we define ourselves as nations. Unlike most countries in the world, we do not define citizenship based on race or ethnicity. Being American or British is not about belonging to a certain group; it's about believing in a certain set of ideals - the rights of individuals and the rule of law. That is why we hold incredible diversity within our borders...Yes, our diversity can lead to tension. Throughout history, there have been heated debates about immigration and assimilation in both our countries. But even as these debates can be difficult, we fundamentally recognize that our patchwork heritage is an enormous strength - that in a world which will only grow smaller and more connected, the example of our two nations says that it's possible for people to be united by their ideals, instead of divided by their differences; that it's possible for hearts to change, and old hatreds to pass; that it's possible for the sons and daughters of former colonies to sit here as members of this great Parliament, and for the grandson of a Kenyan who served as a cook in the British Army to stand before you as President of the United States.”

He got a great reception at the end from politicians of all political persuasions (indeed some of those present resembled teenage girls at a pop concert in their efforts to shake his hand as he left!)

My wife and I had a slightly surreal moment as we were leaving. In an effort to avoid the crush, we looped round through Central Lobby and the Chamber of the House of Commons, where we found the Deputy Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, giving Tom Hanks (who was for some reason part of the President's entourage) the guided tour. After a bit of "You ask", "No, you ask" to and fro, I plucked up the courage and got his autograph for our three boys, who adore the Toy Story films.

We weren't allowed to take photos of the President, but Tom was much more obliging...

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Gavin Barwell, House of Commons, SW1A 1AA, Tel  020 8660 0491      © Gavin Barwell  2017       Promoted by Ian Parker on behalf of Gavin Barwell, both at 36 Brighton Road, Purley, CR8 2LG