Kisses and first-day euphoria as new British MPs arrive
As newly-elected British MPs arrived for their first day in parliament Monday, Conservatives exchanged kisses and handshakes while a new bloc of Scottish nationalists faced their first battle -- finding their way around.
While the House of Commons does not formally sit until next Monday, most lawmakers have already come to London to set up their offices, meet colleagues and gossip about the general election result.
Beaming members of Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives, who scored a surprise victory in Thursday's poll, stopped to congratulate each other and staffers were seen carrying bouquets of flowers.
This parliament is quite different to the last.
As well as a majority centre-right Conservative government for the first time since 1996, the number of lawmakers from the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) is up ninefold, while Labour and the Liberal Democrats have shrunk.
"It's a wee bit surreal," said 28-year-old Stewart McDonald, the new SNP MP for Glasgow South.
"I had the impression it would be a bit like joining a gym in January where all the older members give you that odd look but it's been nothing but kindness from folk."
Out of 650 MPs in total, 182 are new to the job. Of these, 53 are from the SNP, which swept to a landslide victory north of the border.
All 56 SNP MPs gathered with their leader, Nicola Sturgeon, for a photocall outside parliament after flying down from Scotland Monday, many still euphoric from the election result.
Plenty of work awaits them. The new starters now face having to set up offices in the Commons and in their constituencies as well as finding a place to stay in London and mastering the intricacies of parliamentary procedure, all at once.
No MP has been assigned an office yet and they have to share desks on a first-come, first-served basis, work on laptops and sign up for temporary lockers until these are allocated.
Parliamentary officials are running an induction day on Wednesday covering how the Commons works and how to run an effective office.
In the new parliament, the oldest lawmaker, Labour's Gerald Kaufman, is 84, while Mhairi Black of the SNP is just 20, making her the youngest MP since 1667.
Asked if she was worried about the size of the job ahead, Black said, in a jibe at the Conservatives: "I'm not nervous, the people who should be nervous are the ones whose policies have put so many people into poverty."
There is also a record number of women in the Commons -- 191 or 29 percent.
- 'Fair chuffed to be here' -
Another new SNP MP, Martyn Day, was sporting the green sticker with parliament's portcullis logo on it which freshmen wore to identify themselves to parliamentary staff.
"I came down with one of my colleagues from the neighbouring constituency and we're all fair chuffed that we're going to be here," he said.
"We flew down this morning in the early hours and managed to get slightly lost on the Underground so that will take a bit of getting used to as well."
For Day, the priority was to get his office up and running as soon as possible so he could get down to work.
"It's all the nuts and bolts -- how to set up an office, hire staff," he said.
The SNP's ultimate goal is Scottish independence but lawmakers said their priority for now at Westminster -- which symbolises the British rule they reject -- would be providing a strong voice for Scotland.
Labour members kept a lower profile after their party's defeat by an unexpectedly large margin, although likely leadership contenders such as Chuka Umunna were around and chatting to colleagues.
Spare a thought, too, for those MPs who lost their seats last week and now face having to adjust to life after politics.
Former Conservative lawmaker Louise Mensch wrote a blog Sunday advising them to take regular exercise, acknowledge they will be prone to depression and avoid alcohol in the coming months.
"Go and build a new world and climb a new mountain," she wrote.
© 2015 AFP