- Posted by Jonny hough
- On March 15, 2014
Over 175 members and supporters – a sell-out audience- attended the BritishSpanish Society’s annual gala dinner on Thursday March 14th in the Members’ Private Dining Room , Houses of Parliament .
The access to one of the most beautiful rooms in the otherwise named Palace of Westminster proved a big attraction, along with the personality of the guest of honour, Esperanza Aguirre , the most anglophile and controversial of Spain’s leading politicians.
The English educated Aguirre whose political heroes are Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher, declared her speech to the Society the most challenging and rewarding of her political career.
Delivered in almost perfect English, the half hour speech proved a historical and philosophical tour de force , as Aguirre took the audience on an appreciative tour of English political cultural history from the Anglo-Saxon kings of the 1th century to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second.
She professed herself among a small minority of Spanish public figures over recent centuries that had professed “their love and fascination for Great Britain.” Among those she mentioned were Blanco White, Alcala Galiano, Canovas, and two of her husband’s ancestors, the Duke of Rivas and Admiral Cayetano Valdes, who sought refuge in England during the years in which the Spanish King Fernando the 7th persecuted Spanish liberals.
In a speech, full of humour and political insight, Aguirre went on to list what she most respected about today’s British political culture from the debates and Question Time in the House of Commons to the British sense of patriotism and the fact that Great Britain does not have a written Constitution.
“It is the best demonstration that nobody, absolutely nobody, in this country (referring to the United Kingdom)), doubts what their nation is, what their rights are, and what their responsibilities are,” she said.
Aguirre declared herself also a fan of English competiveness as well as eccentricity, which, the speaker argued , had led the British to invent “all imaginable sports,from football, today the most universal of sports, to cricket, the most difficult to understand for those not English.”
Aguirre paid tribute to her Wartime pro-British grandparents, and the British Council in Madrid, where she received her early education, and said she felt truly honoured at having been granted ten years ago by Her Majesty the Queen, the title Honorary Dame Commander of the Order of the English Empire.
The title-the first ever to be granted to a Spanish subject by the Queen of England, was in recognition of Aguirre’s commitment over the years to bridge building between the peoples of Britain and Spain and in particular her championing of English language teaching n Spanish state schools.
Aguirre,was warmly applauded when she declared herself in favour of honesty in politics and a more accountable parliamentary system in Spain, and received a standing ovation at the end.
She was clearly delighted, not just by the reception to her speech but also because she had delivered it in a room where her idol the late Baroness Thatcher, used to meet members of her party when she was prime-minister.
Guests , some of whom were offered a guided tour of the Houses of Parliament earlier on in the evening on arrival in the 900 year old Westminster Hall, were clearly delighted not just by the quality of the speech –and genial nature of the speaker-but also the architecture of room they were gathered in for their dinner. The oak-panelled Members Dining Room, is one of a dozen rooms in the House of Commons that have played a part in the nation’s history. The room’s architecture dates back to the late 19th century although it opened as a dining room in 1930, together with the nearby Strangers Dining Room.
The venues usually reserved for MPs and senior staff. As of December last year these rooms have been available for private hire for special occasions by reputable individuals and organisations-and the Society’s name was put forward by its sponsoring MP, the Spanish speaking Chris Bryant.
The former (Labour) foreign minister was among a small group of MP’s attending the Gala. They included Conservative MP James Arbuthnot, and Lords Brennan and Garel-Jones. Among those invited but unable to attend because of another engagement were the Deputy prime-minister Nick Clegg and his Spanish wife Miriam Gonzalez.
The guest list was otherwise made up of a cross-section of professional Spaniards and British, of all ages-some who had flown specially from from Spain, others living in the UK, including academics, artists, fashion designers(Agatha de la Prada contributed bottles of her new perfume range to the evening) , star chefs ( Nacho Manzano) , lawyers, bankers and business executives .The event’s main sponsor –Iberica – was well represented as were other principal supporters of the Society- BBVA, Santander, Telefonica, and Ferrovial.
The Members Dining Room is among the venues usually reserved for MPs and senior staff. As of December last year these rooms have been available for private hire for special occasions by reputable individuals and organisations.
Plans for the private hire of rooms on the parliamentary estate were approved by the House of the Commons administration committee in 2013. The move is intended to increase public access and raise revenue for the running and upkeep of Parliament; it follows a warning by John Bercow, the Commons Speaker, that the House should be “public property” and not a “private club”. .
Such was the interest generated this year by our Gala Dinner that the Society had to ask Ms Aguirre-and she accepted-soon after her arrival in London the day before- to attend a separate reception organised by the Society for members and other supporters at the NH Hotel .
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