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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10 reader comments

  1. anon says:

    as I loaf around on my sofa, guzzling unhealthy soft drinks washed down with lots of popcorn (sorry all untrue) watching inspirational stuff about the training of commandos etc (true) isn’t one of the key bits about this -and how any of us can become more than we are is that (sometimes) one has to be broken down first, in order to have the potential to become far more than we might ever hope to be otherwise? (and also hopefully to be nicer people as well),

    might not the case also be for Parliament, the people as well as the building? as you suggest.Opportunity knocks perhaps, and that isn’t the building falling down (!)

    I believe, well know God exists. No one in the Bible of note ever had an easy time as they tried to make the world a better place,

    if you think about it if one is privileged to be gifted, it is incredibly difficult to stay on the right path, the very human thing to do for any of us is / or would be to enjoy this, this can be to the detriment sometimes of doing the right thing, or respecting others, without some thorn is our flesh, something to bring out our humility. our better predominately (gentle) qualities which would otherwise be overwhelmed by the louder worldly sharp elbow stuff stuff

    also when people ask where is God in today’s world, I feel is is demonstrated in the love and kindness some people to those who suffer. who are wounded by life’s events. by kindness, the encouraging kind word or act that make the weak stronger

    it is shown I believe in those who fight to the bitter end regardless of the personal cost to fight evil, to repudiate what this world (currently) stands for, in order to try to help those who are suffering

    demonstrated by may I say the care your News team shows every night about those suffering in this world,

    (but the Bible I think also says that not everyone who calls themselves Christians will be recognised by God at the end of the day),

    forgive me for adding this, it is not intended to be intrusive, but this kindness and love can be found in people of many different faiths, or none, or perhaps in the children of the manse who may still be undecided, but through their actions demonstrate clearly God’s love in their kindness, and by what they do and say,

    best wishes and thank you for all you and your colleagues are doing to try to make the building a kinder place (as it can be, will be one day soon, hopefully)

    1. Jack says:

      Good answer! As we have struggled with “devolution”…(however many more times Sturgeon and co wish to hold ANOTHER referendum), we need, as well as the set up in all the rest of the UK, yet another smaller English parliament!

      This could be built, using the model of the devolved parliaments, perhaps away from London a bit, whilst a slightly bigger model could be newbuilt just South of Birmingham et al to be the more central “British Parliament building”. It IS after all the 21st Century. I know we depended on mail coaches and semaphores historically recently, but if the world can now see the other side of the world at the flick of a switch, what an opportunity this parliamentary upgrade places before us!!

      Reset British democracy into premises swish enough for the 21st Century. As others have,I have read of our nations`s history as we progressed as a nation from Roman Invasion, through the Middle Ages and Enlightenment through the times of Wellington and Nelson..(Heroes all)…and progressed in learning to the world Wars, the Cold war and our present modern era.
      We beheaded a monarch to move to representative government, and we preserved world freedom by defeating aggressors, surely the next few hundred years of Democracy can be watched over by parliament buildings which accurately represent this Century and those to come, rather than the Past, which has gone?
      New parliament buildings for a new future would be much more appropriate than clinging to a long gone past??
      Money no object to restore an ancient monument? How about a 21st Century vision to allow us to look to the future, we have kept our past alive for a long time to honour those who created THEIR future then. Perhaps it is now time to create a visionary future now as we succeeded in doing when the present parliament was built and upgraded??
      I do hope our leaders do not miss the opportunity this re-evaluation gives them, and the Nation!!

  2. Euan Taylor says:


    A great topic but let us not confuse a symptom with the problem.

    Any reform or democratisation of the Lords will mean a reduction in the powers of the Commons and by extension the ruling party. Not quite turkeys voting for Christmas…. but real problem here is the elected dictatorship of the Commons and overlap of the executive and legislature.


  3. Paul Ronayne says:


    I doubt that anything will drag them into this century. Excellent Blog.

  4. Lesley Walker says:

    The other opportunity is to finally recognise Westminster as the museum it is, apply for grants and restore it and open it to the public as a visitor attraction – live theatre with real politicians, costumes, antiquated language and systems, and lots of entertaining drama and antics. Like in Buckingham Palace, visitors can marvel at what Great Britain can show the world about feudalism, privilege, class systems, privatisation, centralization and weak government by the few for the few in a so-called “democracy”. In the meantime we could have a proper constitutional democracy happening elsewhere with local people running more of their own affairs and proper preferential voting systems in place. Am I dreaming? It would take a revolution in British thinking to even contemplate radical change and we all know how effective the British are at revolutions.

  5. Alan Clifford says:

    “If post-Brexit Britain is to cut a dash as a go-getting, modern, forward-looking state…”

    Oh my aching sides.

    Oh the unconscious irony.

    This is a country that has abandoned virtually every shred of individual and collective pride it ever had, to become what one indigenous author called, “A litter strewn right wing authoritarian rat hole.”

    This is a country which tolerated deliberate impoverishment of whole regions and which adopted lies as a main spring of its “culture.”

    This is a country whose capital has become a world leader in corruption and a builder of the ugliest architecture in Europe. A neon-lit high rise slum of the imagination peopled with spivs and tenth rate conmen.

    This is a country whose mainstream media (including Channel 4 News) churns out deception, cynicism and propaganda as a matter of course.

    Yeah, Britain “cuts a dash” all right. A dash to the bottom.

    1. Jack says:

      The last time Britain “cut a dash”, was between 1939 til 1945.
      Just as before, Britain needs a New Leader, but our present lot of losers need not apply!!.
      The realistic way into the future would be to drastically take lessons from the Democracies that we created (some by default)
      A GB parliament sticks to the Victorian buildings and the Victorian attitudes.
      Perhaps a NEW set of democrats could set up the Parliamentary shop elsewhere but London.
      It has of course been a symbol of the ruling caste since it was named Londinium, but then the Romans actually did rule the world.
      Luckily they left us the makings of real democracy which has stood the test of time…unlike the Victorian pile parliamentarians insist on clinging to for their posterity.
      That posterity went, puff of smoke like, when Queen Victoria died in 1901!
      The houses of parliament ARE a museum! Time to leave them to historical posterity and begin again…..elsewhere than London. After this referendum a NEW START for British democracy would seem to be in order!! In OZ the country is governed locally and nationally without the clinging to the past we see around us in the UK! Time for a change!
      As citizens have already VOTED for one, perhaps our representatives could , for once, just DO AS THEY ARE TOLD!!!

  6. stephen collier says:

    There has been talk of shifting Parliament up north away from the property wash house that is now our Capital. Hmm, the thought of that shower waltzing around my City would give me the creeps. No. Stay put kids and remain in your tip. You belong there.

  7. Rita Abela says:

    Dear Mr Snow I have always admired your work and ethics. However I have a small comment to make. Maybe you wont read it or even care. Still I would like to draw your attention to this fact: during the reportage about Syria. You show the rebels threatening and posturing and you mention they are Syrians. Wrong, the accent is definately not syrian. Also you are biased in your reporting because you never show what horrors the islamists do as well. In any civil war horrible deeds are committed by all sides and if you want to be really neutral and objective you must show both sides. I am not an important person but I feel the need to set the record straight.

  8. margaret says:

    I like the history and the difference and the respect we should all have , not only parliamentarians. We do not all want to be grey , and lacking identity. We need to stop the rot and remember our fore bearers and why we are here . I don’t want nu speak . I don’t want ceremonies where rude people shout over others on microphones . We should carry on with tradition

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