Yes, I mean it – the Houses of Parliament are shit we don’t need. Nothing we can do about it individually… yet. And no, I’m not suggesting that we don’t have a House of Commons and an Upper House – I mean the building itself is
- no longer fit for the job
- engenders the wrong kind of politics and therefore
- breeds the wrong kind of politicians.
We need politicians. But just look at the shower of twazzocks representing us at the moment! Before you bombard me with protest, I know there are some excellent LOCAL MPs who serve their constituencies well. This isn’t a rant about particular politicians, nor is it a party political broadcast on behalf of a particular. But our politics is not healthy at the moment, and a fresh start might be a wonderful way to start the healing process.
The building itself
The whole Palace of Westminster has to close – and soon – because it needs a vast overhaul. It’s infested with rats and mice, and there are regular sewage leaks in the basements. Serious water erosion has damaged the building, and as recently as 4th April of this year, business was suspended in the House of Commons when water started leaking through the ceiling.
All this is merely cosmetic. The real danger is that the mechanical and electrical systems are old, and the patch-and-mend regime that has kept the place going for decades is no longer enough. The wiring is so ancient that the whole place could go up in flames any day.
The only way this Victorian masterpiece can be restored is by a total evacuation of the building for at least six years, and it will happen soon.
In the meantime, both Houses and all the personnel must find another home. Why not a new PERMANENT home?????
There is seating for 427 in the House of Commons, but there are 650 MPs. The House of Lords can sit 400 peers, but there are about 800 of the blighters. The bloody chambers are simply not big enough, and that’s not going to change with new wiring, is it?
The two-sided chambers are built for confrontation, not consensus. In fact, the House of Commons has two red lines down the length of the floor and these were designed to be two sword lengths apart so that an enraged member of HM Opposition couldn’t plunge his epée into the Minister for Transport on hearing, for instance, that said Minister had spent £13.8m on an imaginary fleet of ferries. (Though who could imagine such a thing in real life?)
MPs shout, boo, catcall, and behave like deranged schoolkids denied their Ritalin. A circular chamber wouldn’t guarantee decent, grown-up behaviour, but it would help take the heat out of room if they weren’t always glowering at one another across two sword-lengths of floor.
A place can have too much history. When the House of Commons sits, the Speaker proceeds in wearing a black and gold robe, his train held up by a flunkey in ruffles and pantaloons, and in front of them both is another flunkey carrying the 5-foot mace. (I’m sure the flunkeys have fancy titles with outdated spellings, like Ayncient Searjeant of Ye Olde Mayce, and Seynyor Toadye of Ye Goldeyn Robe, but I can’t be arsed to look them up.)
Oh, and if you ever touch the mace, which is a long, fancy golden stick, your buttons are torn off and you are forced to eat your chop alone in the Members Dynyng Roome for 13 days. All right, I made that up, but it is taboo to touch the mace and the Speaker will throw you out for being in contempt of Parliament. Cromwell called it a “fool’s bauble” and whilst I don’t often agree with the Butcher of Drogheda, it’s a fair description.
The trouble with the Palace of Westminster is there is too much bloody history; nearly 1000 years in fact – Westminster Hall, the oldest part of the building dates from 1097. It’s an 8 acre warren of inexplicable complexity and arcane rules dating from the Flood. There are more than a thousand rooms, over three miles of passages, 100 staircases, and about 30 bars. (One of those bars is for bishops…) Oh, and the bars are heavily subsidised by you and me…
New MPs spend their first months lost and confused about where to go, what to do, and wondering whether it’s okay to go into one room or another or if they’ve trespassed into forbidden areas … I’m not the first person to point out that the Palace of Westminster is more like a very exclusive private members club than the seat of Government. (Mhairi Black, the youngest ever MP, caused uproar when she refused to eat in a segregated part of one of the canteens where kitchen staff and MPs were not allowed to sit together. Bless her!)
The trouble is that once you start accepting these kinds of rules, and you buy the idea that MPs are too grand to eat with dinner ladies, it eats into the soul, a canker of aggrandisement. MPs learn the obscure rules and bone up on Erskine May (the guide to parliamentary procedure). It’s as though they become members of a secret society, developing a Kremlin mentality where the only thing that matters is Parliament itself.
Given that the whole lot of ’em have to move out for a £5bn refurb, why not move them to a new, purpose-built parliament with circular debating chambers and enough seats for the bums of both houses?
Build it in Birmingham
Why not? It’s in the centre of the country, it’s cheaper than London and it’s our second city. Easier to reach for almost all many MPs too – even Penzance is 14 miles closer to Brum! It’s also a brilliant city, and it would take a good deal of the pressure off London. Many other countries have their “capital cities” away from their main cities – Australia, South Africa, USA…
… when the £5bn refurbishment has happened (and it’ll probably be £8bn and take 3 years longer than anticipated…) it can be reopened for tourism, history tours by schoolkids, office space, weddings, barmitzvahs, and it can earn a living for the nation. And it could possibly host the odd State Occasion, if we allow it.
It is ours, after all.
I’ve gone fortnightly. I published these weekly to get the blog off the ground, but being bombarded with my thoughts every two weeks is probably quite enough for most of you.