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Champers at 10

Peter Scargill outside Number 10

It all began with a cordial invite from the Prime Minister to a small, select group of businesspeople to attend a reception at 10 Downing Street to “Celebrate the Success of Small Business”. Everyone had their own personal invite from number 10 and we individually had to RSVP directly. My invite is staying on the cork board at home in case the grandkids are ever interested.

Arriving at the scene by taxi, I wasn’t really sure what to expect but I can confirm that they’ve converted Downing Street entrance into something very military-looking, a sad reflection of our times – you simply can’t get into the street AT ALL without the full metal detector bit. To be fair the police were very friendly with it all and this didn’t really detract from the experience..

After passing security we walked up to number 10 which in itself is quite an experience as the entrance is instantly recognisable to anyone with a TV.

We were welcomed inside and asked to leave coats and mobile phones at reception. The place is a lot bigger than I imagined and there is a large entrance-way with a reception desk, racks for coats and an area specifically for storing mobile phones – not securely which was a bit of a worry, but I let it pass as everything was well-lit and there were people floating around with earphones plugged in looking like something out of the TV series "24".

Having been relieved of our potential weapons of mass destruction it was for a moment, Outside 10 Downing Streeteach man for himself. Past reception is a large spiral staircase and all the way up are images of past prime ministers – very impressive. I took my time to enjoy the moment. Once upstairs we were greeted not with champagne but simply a choice of red of white wine – and very nice too! We were free to wander about the place, I don’t think anyone got to to see the cabinet room which is apparently in the basement (good idea thinking about it) but the place is pretty impressive non-the-less. No doubt the official photos when they arrive will paint a better picture than I could here except to say that the inside of 10 Downing Street is suitably impressive.

As colleagues arrived, well known faces appeared including “Sir” Alan Michael Sugar though I have difficulty with this fellow as he looks a bit spiv-like to me..  and I’ve not forgotten the FSB call for his resignation, obviously some HAD as they SHOOK HANDS with him. Each to their own and I suppose that networking with the fellow is better for business than ignoring him as I did. Next up was Lord Mandleson who proceeded to apologise for Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s absence as he was off on important business – and who then gave us a polished, rehearsed speech about the importance of small business.

I’m not one for deference and I was glad to see that at least some of the other guests felt the same way. As the speech rolled out I imagined the phrase “small businesses” being interchanged with “unions” or whoever else the target audience might be in a smooth but less than convincing talk about how much the government cares about business, how much they need to listen to us and how much they’re doing for us. Those present for the most part stood politely in their lounge suits and merely listened… but looking at their faces it was pretty obvious not that many were staunch labour voters, none of which detracts from the excellent experience of actually BEING THERE and of course that was the whole point. There were some groans at one point and Lord Mandleson had to change tack – but then surely he didn’t think business representatives would let him off lightly?

Outside Downing Street waiting for security

Within half an hour or less the speech was over and everyone was pretty much free to network, which we all did – and of course more drinks were on offer and there was a fabulous view to enjoy. I was doing my best to take full advantage of the situation and having a nice chat with one of my fellow businessmen when a microphone appeared out of no-where..  For the life of me I can’t remember which newspaper or radio station it was but the reporter went through a whole list of questions about how we felt about government, banking and just about everything else he could think of, clearly he was onto a goldmine with the two of us as we were taking turns at the mic for well over 15 minutes – a MOST enjoyable way to round off the evening though some of it was probably not entirely what the residents of number 10 would have preferred to hear.

Several glasses of wine and umpteen nibbles later, though not under any pressure to exit the premises, a small group of us decided it was time to take our leave and wandered back down the scenic stairway and out of the door to be greeted by the official photographer – I can’t wait to see the results – We then took various amateur shots, most of which of course were rubbish… mobile phone cameras are pretty useless in the dark.

Off we went to the nearest Italian restaurant – and a good time was had by all. We’d done our relationship-building for the night, time for some real enjoyment.

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