The Houses of Parliament is falling apart, not (just) the politics but the building itself is decrepit. The mock-gothic Palace of Westminster which hosts our parliament is past its sell by date. The Palace is no longer fit for purpose, it is too small, too hard to access and too difficult to update. Estimates of the repair work needed on the crumbling mid 19th century building are in the region of £3bn. So, perhaps it is time to rethink the Mother of Parliaments and bring it into the 21st century.
A new shiny building is required complete with state of the art offices for each MP. A well designed debating chamber with access for the public, after all MPs are supposed to be our representatives and we pay them. Similarly, it should contain committee rooms, meeting places, lecture theatres where proper public scrutiny of their activities can take place openly and in full view. No “Press Lobby” where only those approved can be admitted. If we need a second chamber then in should not be populated by old mates, political appointees and Bishops. We need a proper democratic second chamber to take the long view of legislation, not a cosy repository of has beens, lackeys and political shoe ins.
There should also be accommodation for all MPs, no more cosy London retreats paid for by the general public, no more scandals over expenses and mortgage flipping. Pay the MPs a better salary and remove the right to expenses. If necessary pay those from distant constituencies more than those from close by to compensate. It not only has to be fair but be seen to be fair. Each PM would be provided with a named assistant paid for from the public purse, no more cosy jobs for the pals, no more unpaid interns, this is little more than slavery with a promise of a job at the end of it.
Okay this is probably going too far, I am not sure we are ready for such radical changes. I can hear the howls of derision already. So just to complete the folly here’s another suggestion. Move the parliament out of London!
Take a map of the UK and draw a line from the western most point to the eastern most then from the most northern to the most southern. Now, I realise this is not exact, for example you could include Rockall in the West and the Channel Islands in the south but Rockall is uninhabited and the Channel Islands have their own legislature, so they have been excluded for the purposes of this experiment.
The lines cross as you can see in the Irish Sea (Fig 1). Well, we could have a floating Parliament which could dock at various ports around the country during its sessions. That would be a use for those aircraft carriers with no aircraft, but even I think that is going too far. How about inland from Blackpool then? It is close to the geographical centre of the country which would improve access for the public. The BBC has a large contingent in Media City in Salford which contains a large newsroom. The land is relatively cheap, there’s lots of room, the M55 and M6 are close by, Blackpool has an airport and there are reasonable rain links. And it would provide an added boost to the “Northern Powerhouse” so beloved of the Chancellor.
Separating the Parliament from the economic and banking powerhouse that is London could also help that great city. It would free up the Palace of Westminster to become a museum perhaps, though some would say it already is. In addition to a museum, this Gothic wonder could also provide lots of much needed hotel beds, affordable accommodation and by taking people out of the city, not just the MPs and their support but the Civil Servants, perhaps the house prices would fall to something more affordable.
London could then get on with what it is good at – making money. A rundown part of the country would get a tranche of much needed investment. And just perhaps politicians would get out of the London Bubble and be closer to the people they are supposed to represent.
Well you can but dream.