Would a brand new Westminster save the Union?

Could nostalgia become a thing of the past?

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I can hardly bring myself to read this weekend’s papers, or listen to Jeremy Vine’s or anyone else’s radio phone-in, in case the subject of repairs to the Palace of Westminster comes up as a topic. The Commons speaker John Bercow has announced that it would cost around £3bn to restore and needs doing in the next twenty years. If Wembley or the Olympics are any measures to go by, that figure could become thirty billion or squillion by the time the Polyfilla vans pull up in fifteen years time.

The predictability of responses to the announcement must be avoided, but in there will be references to “bulldozers”, “the whole place”, and “with the lot of them in there”. Inevitable of course, because the electorate have become increasingly jaded with politicians in the UK and in the west generally. Inept, corrupt, overpaid – you’ll have heard it all. Perhaps you’ve said it or just thought it. So instead, here’s an idea. A new building at a third of the price, somewhere other than London. End cynicism, eradicate nostalgia, generate hope.

This is a truly golden, once-in-several-lifetimes opportunity for genuine renewal. A new seating arrangement in order to avoid the childishly partisan schoolboy ya-booing. Create a building without a shooting gallery but with provision for childcare. During the planning stages, get it right by thinking about missed opportunities, like Wembley, where an iconic stadium with an intrinsic sense of occasion, which looked fantastic on the telly like no other football ground, was demolished and rebuilt on the same space to look like any other stadium. Disappointment all round. At this point I’d like to give a mention to Roy Hodgson, the England football manager, uber-realist and lowerer of public expectations. We’ll come back to him in a sec.

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Back to the Parliament building. Need drives such an ambitious and momentous project. The Scottish parliament got itself a new building. So did Germany. An act of need for a new style of government in the case of the former. Cynics will find their moments of course. Inevitably someone along the way – a contractor, an architect – gets a decent slice out of it, but overall, a new parliament can kick start interest in the political process, can call a halt to cynicism and promote renewal and ideas for how the country might be. And by country, here at home I mean the federation of nations called the United Kingdom, or Great Britain if you prefer not to be reminded that we are just subjects. “Westminster”, the very word, has become toxic to doubters and nationalists everywhere, the embodiment of rule by England. The “Westminster bubble” has come to mean that gaggle of MPs, journalists, civil servants, legal teams and spinmeisters. Move their bubble to Coventry or Barnsley, Wigan or Carlisle. They’ll cope. Cliques and clichés may disperse at least for a couple of generations. There may even emerge new styles of politician, interested in life outside London.

Cynicism is inevitable perhaps, but isn’t always justified and is ultimately simply corrosive. It doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to realise that it’s better to have politicians we can despise or slag off (or, whisper it quietly, admire), than warlords that fill us with terror and despair. Remember the Balkans? They disposed with the niceties of a political system for a while but it didn’t go very well. It is no good wishing politicians away, as the next option is far less desirable. We should want and demand, or at least hope for, better politicians.

And then there’s nostalgia and tradition, whatever they are. Usually a heady mix of complacency and lazy belief that habits and culture created somewhere between the early Victorian era up to the longest living memory, was infinitely better than now, providing an excuse to never ever do anything different again. We start the demand for a new Parliament building, by ditching our obsession with these twin treacle clad dead weights of our national psyche. Roy Hodgson managed it. He took on his current job on the understanding that there was no chance of England winning the World Cup or Euro whatever, so we must stop going on about it. No-one does any more.

Could we have a view Mr. Hodgson, on the merits of rebuilding Westminster?


2 comments on “Would a brand new Westminster save the Union?

  1. thelyniezian says:

    Agreed (though you’re not the only blogger in my feed to hold this view).

    You could still preserve the old building as a historical monument and tourist attraction- sell it off and let some National Trust type organization fund repairs, whilst opening it up to paying visitors and perhaps use part of it as a conference facility, etc. to help it pay its own way. Preserve the relics of the old tradition enough to keep the tourist money coming in but don’t pretend they have any relevance in the 21st century other than to remind us of where we came from and celebrate the good parts.

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