THE HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT

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

It was about to lash down the other day, so I couldn’t be bothered to get any nearer. But how symbolic is Big Ben under wraps, not to mention those storm clouds over Westminster!

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?????

Space

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?

Aggression

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?)

See those red lines? John Kerry, John Bercow and William Hague in the Commons. Note the Bearer of Ye Olde Lanyard & Lamynayte at the back. Image by David Mark from Pixabay 

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.

Tradition

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.)

You can’t see the pantaloons in this photo (which I snuck from the Independent) but I assure you they are there.

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.

Aggrandisement

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.

When you go to work in a place like this, you may get a lofty idea of your own importancePhoto of Westminster Hall by Jase Ess on Unsplash

Move

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…

And then…

… 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.

Thanks to Michael D Beckwith on Unsplash for the photo at the top.

Piper in her favourite chair, imitating a Member of the British Parliament.

Note

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.

21 thoughts on “THE HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT

  1. Thank you Dillie for saying it like it is. I really enjoy your common sense. Am not a fan of Westmonster

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yep.. nice idea, but I’ve seen (and worked in) too many crap modern buildings to think that it would be much better. Although the (semi-)circular chamber might be a good idea (and this wouldn’t be the first place where I’ve seen it mooted). I think the main problem is the toxic culture that’s developed in British politics. And fixing that is going to take much longer.

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  3. Sadly, Dillie, you have just made an argument for HS2, so I can’t agree with you, much as I would like to.

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  4. You only have to visit the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood to realise how uncomfortable, outdated and unfit for purpose Westminster really is.
    One portion of it could even be luxury apartments, to help pay for the conversion.

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  5. we are all weighed down by Brexit, followed by the change of Prime Minister. Once we are in the clear – parliamentarians and populace – we may get down to thinking of something sensible, like a new building. I can recommend a brilliant young architect called Francis Keane!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Spot on. The problem with the rituals and fancy dress, though, is that they’re part and parcel of the constitutional makeup of the British state. So moving to more practical accommodations would be like setting a full-dress Restoration comedy in a modern office building. They’ll have to do this anyway – at least for a few years – which should help highlight the nonsensical nature of it all. Given the way things are going with Brexit, and the impending breakup of the UK, there’s probably a case to be made for a new Parliament building within a hardened, defensible, high-security fortress on somewhat higher ground than the present establishment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was assuming that with a new, purpose built building that at least some of the rituals and fancy dress would be quietly laid aside. Given that we don’t have a constitution, there’s nothing to say we can’t alter it gradually. And state occasions could be held in the old way with the Monarch coming to open Parliament for a day with all the ritual – and possibly in Westminster Hall so that seating for all could be arranged… then back to business the next day in the new parliament up in Brum… rather in the same way that the Queen gets the coaches out for very fancy schmancy occasions only and the rest of the time goes by car. So traditionalists could be mollified by retaining the big occasion.

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  7. Well put. Westminster = Catastrophic Failure (both the fabric and most of its inhabitants). The spreading scaffolding is a physical metaphor that pretty much says everything you need to know about the institution. Just in case you ever doubted what the pseudo-gothic pile on the Thames was really for, they made it pretty plain in the refurbishment done so far. It’s the original decorative scheme now restored to its full English Nationalism Imperial glory. Westminster was always intended for shock and awe impact. Its physical job was to intimidate the subject nations (Scots, Welsh, Irish) in these islands; to keep the politically excluded English (poor, women etc) in their place, and finally to cock a condescending snook at the rest of the world once the Empire got into high gear. Big Ben falling silent should give us the strong hint that the whole shambles of Westminster should be shut down too before the building slides into the Thames. Its glory days are long gone. Parliament needs a new home for a new role in the 21stC. Scotland will be independent and Ireland reunited soon anyway. Put simply: England needs its own assembly. As an interim, the vacated former Lords Chamber would do nicely for English MEPs (Members of the English Parliament). They could argue about brexshit there to their hearts’ content and not bother the rest of us. The Qatari royal family could add the old building to its collection, along with the former american embassy in Grosvenor Square. Making the PoW into a 5* hotel thingie for visiting plutocrats and oligarchs is the best course of action. They would feel right at home in the bling and pomp. English governments (the Crown and entourage) used to be peripatetic anyway. In the digital age they could easily be so again while retaining always-on connectivity. Westminster-centrism has had its day. Its imperialist monument is in danger of suffering the ultimate indignity: a sewage explosion catastrophe any day (Victorian cast iron holding tanks only last so long). Carpe diem and do it another way. Hint, have a look at how Holyrood is built and how people behave in it.

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  8. Nooooo! I miss your weekly blogs! Fortnightly is too long! Though I appreciate you have to be inspired, research and write them! Please don’t think you could possibly blog to excess!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Re Andrew Craig’s thoughts: there has already been ‘a sewage catastrophe’ in the PoW. It was cunningly disguised as Brexit. Dillie and Adele get to the piano with your manuscript paper now! Describe the scenes for us when the holding tanks finally give out! (There are so many fabulous synonyms for sewage. There must be a song lurking in the midden.)

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Could. Not. Agree. More. And I also agree with the ideas for the use of the current building. It’s a wonderful Pugin masterpiece which deserves a full refurbishment and to be made accessible to the public as far as feasible. I’m sure there are a hundred and one (probably more) ways, as you suggest whereby the buildings would pay their way. Another amazing tourist spot for visitors and the weddings and bar mitzvahs would be awesome. Westminster Hall is a gem (fab hammer beams) and ancient. Don’t care if the new one is in Brum or elsewhere. It’s still a bit far for the Scots but closer than London. We may have cut loose by then. (sorry) In which case I’ll not be bothered.

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    • Apart from anything else, it’s a little close to the river and with the Arctic and Antarctic in full flow, it doesn’t seem sensible to have the seat of government at risk of gurgling slowly underwater…

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