12 Sep 2016

Parliament is falling down: what goes on inside needs repair too

If God exists, then according to our unwritten constitution, a good bit of him knocks around the Palace of Westminster.


For every day that Parliamentarians are in session, they pray to him at 2.30pm on Mondays, and his name is conjured in everything from rhetoric to documents. Hence it is not unreasonable to imagine that God has finally had enough of the hocus pocus around the place and has presided over its falling down and the triggering of its urgent need for repair.

So urgent is the falling down, the asbestos and the general rot, that MPs have been told that they, together with their Lordships, will have to vacate the building for some  six years in four years’ time. Six years is a Parliament and a half in duration. That means that many of those who leave the building in 2021 will never return, either because they have been defeated, or have stood down, or because they have died.

So that when Lords and Commoners return to the respective Houses of Parliament in 10 years’ time, there will inevitably be an entirely new “feel” in the place.

In the meantime, the Lords will meet in the austere concrete pile that is the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre, across the road from Westminster Abbey, and the Commons will supposedly meet in the Department of Health in Whitehall.

We can but hope that these novel surroundings will purge the system of its absurdities and bring it into the 21st Century. So should it be death to the “Honorable Member” – and instead have people called by their names? Should it be an end to the sword-and-a-half’s distance between Government and Opposition – a hangover from the medieval jousts that resolved the thorniest of issues? Indeed, will the mace have to be dragged about, followed by a procession of men adorned with sixteenth century collars, britches, and something akin to flowing black dresses?

The present construct encourages adversarial combat, when most seek some degree of co-operation to get things done.

If post-Brexit Britain is to cut a dash as a go-getting, modern, forward-looking state, it’s probably wise to look the part. The flummery, obscurity, ya-booing, and the rest, for all its theatrical entertainment, also suggest a state living in the Dark Ages.

In short, the committee of MPs having done their job in sorting out the building, could we not now have a Constitutional Commission which will now use the hiatus to sort out what goes on inside the building?

The Lords, with numerous peers who have either bought their way in, or whose forebears have slept their way in, need to be sorted out. So too does the way in which anyone lands up there.

So far no one has come up with a better system for ensuring representative democracy than by election. And as we battle to boast the largest legislative assembly in the world, what about the numbers? Amid devolution and the rest, do we really need close on 1,500 people serving in the national parliament?

What an opportunity! But does anyone seriously believe that any generation of politicians will ever seize it?

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