‘On the world stage': Chorley prepares to host G7 speakers' conference

When Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the US House of Representatives, suggested to Lindsay Hoyle, her UK counterpart, that they hold the G7 speakersconference in “his district”, she might not have realised how enthusiastically the Lancastrian would embrace the idea.

Hoyle said that Pelosi had asked, “We always go to London, can we get out of London?”, and so this weekend politicians from the world’s richest nations will be descending on the Lancashire market town of Chorley.

And what do the town’s residents think about the influx of international visitors, as well as the inevitable heavy police presence and road closures? “They’re saying ‘blinking heck Linds, I didn’t think you’d get them here!’,” said Hoyle, who has been the constituency’s MP since 1997, although first represented the town aged 22 in 1980 as a councillor. One high street store, Maidens, has adapted its window display to recreate Paul Smith’s Parisian boutique, in an effort to welcome the international guests.

The speakers from each of the G7 nations will be discussing how to maintain open parliaments while keeping members safe and how to ensure the “democratic process remains intact” following the violent Capitol Hill attack in the US, a shooting at the Canadian parliament in 2014, and the murder of a British police officer in the Palace of Westminster in 2017.

Hoyle hopes the conference will also “put Chorley on the world stage”, ensuring the town becomes “part of the overseas tourist circuit”. After being greeted by a town crier, the delegates will discuss thorny issues such as the role of social media in open parliaments at Astley Hall, a Grade I listed historic house, surrounded by a lake and historic woodland, where trees will be planted to represent each attending country.

The US House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, arrives for a meeting with Boris Johnson at Downing Street, before the G7 conference in Chorley. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Astley Hall is midway through a renovation, and until a few weeks ago, had scaffolding outside, with its Jacobean plasterwork ceilings and Elizabethan courtyard shut off to all visitors. The speakers’ conference gave “a greater focus to keep to the timetable”, said Peter Wilson, the deputy leader of Chorley council. “We have a great sense of pride in our historic asset of Astley Hall – the real jewel in the crown, which is an overused phrase but it is actually very apt.”

And what will Hoyle be serving his counterparts from the legislatures of Canada, France, Japan, Germany, Italy and the US? He was excited to nod to a local story (although some historians doubt its veracity) that during a visit to the area in 1617, King James I was so enamoured with a joint of beef, he drew his sword and knighted it “Sir Loin”.

“I said ‘let’s give them a taste of Lancashire beef – the sirloin that was knighted in Chorley – the face that we’ve got Morecambe Bay shrimps, Lancashire cheese, Chorley cakes … we’ve got some real things for people to remember. I think that’s important to them as well as myself, to actually show that there’s great agricultural produce in Lancashire,” he said.

Hoyle is also keen to show Pelosi the links Chorley has with America, including as the birthplace of Myles Standish, a passenger on the Pilgrim ship Mayflower, one of the early colonists of new America. An American flag, stands over the Standish pew at St Lawrence’s church, where delegates will attend a service on Sunday.

“The flag itself at St Lawrence’s is rather threadbare,” Hoyle explained, because it is the same one gifted to the church when America soldiers stationed at the town’s military base left “to fight on the beaches of Normandy”. “I understand that Speaker Pelosi is going to present a new flag to the church. So, you know, those types of bonds are being reestablished as well”.

And will his menagerie of wild animals named after politicians be introduced? No, says Hoyle. Boris the parrot, Maggie the tortoise and Dennis the American cat will be left in the care of the Speaker’s father, the former Labour MP Doug Hoyle. “He’s the zookeeper,” said Hoyle. “I’ve got to keep them on their best behaviour.”

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