With some wondering whether MPs will temporarily move into a new space while the leaks – which interrupted yesterday’s talks – are repaired, it’s prime time to wonder whether Parliament should be re-located on a more permanent basis.
Earlier this week, Londonist revealed Axiom Architects’ (hypothetical) design for a re-vamped Houses of Parliament, introducing changes to the current building. And while the central design concept – one which promotes collaboration, rather than opposition – is one which I strongly support, changes to the almost 150 year old Palace just aren’t going to cut it. The £61 millionrepairs to the Elizabeth Tower proves that maintenance of the ancient building for government use is simply unsustainable.
While the question of whether a Victorian building promotes a Victorian mindset is too nuanced to explore here (and private schools no doubt have a lot to answer for the maintenance of the elitist Westminster bubble), the new Parliament could certainly take a leaf or two from the blueprints of Scotland and Wales’ national Parliament buildings, which strive to represent through their architecture modern innovation and pragmatic forward thinking.
While I have previously argued (and continue to maintain) that the United Kingdom should legitimately consider moving its capital city in order to redistribute power and finance across the country, it’s likely that such a motion would never pass in a Chamber in which MPs from (literal) opposite sides are actively encouraged to jeer at each other.
The problem is that the Houses use a design system dating back to Europe’s Renaissance governments, wherein members of the same party are stuffed next to each other, facing their opponents like over-zealous fans at football games, no doubt contributing to the childish bickering that makes any recording of Commons debates resemble a riotous school class. Britain’s archaic government stands in stark contrast to the number of parliaments globally which sit in a semi-circular, less hostile, fashion.
A House does not need to be impressive or iconic. It simply needs to be practical, and designed with a philosophy which encourages co-operation.
So, what do I propose for the redesigned Parliament?
Firstly, enough seats for MPs to sit comfortably, and not jam next to each other like sardines in suits, which can cause feelings of irritability. However, the seats should not be comfortable enough to sleep in, as many MPs already have a tendency to snooze on the job.
While I believe that the building should be purpose-built, with plenty of natural light and a facade which does not carry the same connotations of grandeur and as the current formidably Gothic, battlement-laden building (the Welsh and Scottish assemblies to the untrained tourist might be confused by libraries, and are all the better for it; libraries have long been beacons for community engagement), I also like the Economist’s idea of using old train stations and factories to house various government departments. This would serve as a reminder to politicians that they are serving the ordinary working people of the country, who built up the nation through their (often forced) industry. Of course, re-appropriating old Victorian buildings would carry all the same issues as having to continually re-vamp our failing and falling Westminster Palace, and also require continuous financial and structural upgrades.
The Economist article proposed that Manchester’s old Central Railway Station can house two large chambers, presumably for both the Commons and the Lords, but as the House of Lords is ripe for permanent dissolution, only one chamber should be needed. (Of course, an alternative secondary House to check laws passed in the Commons will probably be formed; they will require a smaller space.) Space is better suited for MPs’ offices, and space in which various governmental departments can operate.
Comedy Central brilliantly compiled a list of ‘21 Things About the Houses of Parliament Which Are Completely Mental‘ – don’t let the fact that this article was published by a television channel fool you, these are all legitimate takes at just how archaic the Houses of Parliament, with all its out-dated traditions, are.
British politics are changing, and the House they are held in should change, too.
Featured Image ‘DSC_2874 London Houses of Parliament Westminster with Big Ben under repair surrounded with Scaffolding’ by photographer695 on Flickr (view licence).
Note: this article originally appeared on https://thenomad97.wordpress.com.