Last week after decades of complaints about the safety of the building MP’s voted to renovate the Palace of Westminster.
Leaking pipes, exposed electrical cables, and seeping sewage, for those who’ve visited the underbelly of Westminster, it should come as no surprise that the issue of repairs was so urgent, and it’s no small task either. Costing a whopping £3.5 billion pounds to restore, and the renovations will last anywhere between 6 and 11 years. It is set to be the most extensive completed on the palace since the Second World War and for many, this is a bitter sweet development in Parliament’s history. Between the desire to save the building from imminent catastrophe and the need to preserve the traditions in its houses. Though the Palace, and British politics, will undoubtedly be better off for it, in more ways than one.
The phrase, “In Westminster today…”, is one often associated with the familiar chime of the News at Ten. It carries with it a certain prestige, a prestige that embodies the mystique and conservatism of British politics. The ‘Westminster’ system of government has become a model for countries around the world, with many bicameral, constitutional monarchies, particularly of colonial descent, seeking to emulate the success of the United Kingdom in developing a strong and stable governing establishment. But, its fair to say, this fairy tale image, the product of years of press misrepresentation, of quaint and traditional British politics, with its firm and proper politicians, is just that – a fairy tale. Westminster is plagued by archaic traditions that should have died decades ago, and it’s these traditions that have allowed the Tory establishment to retain its grip on this country’s leadership, creating the dire state we’re in today.
The complex regime of rules and traditions, many dating back centuries, contributes to the continued alienation of the non-voting, or blindly voting, populace. Many people don’t get it, and not because they’re stupid, but because it’s a chore. The language, the names, the rules, it’s all an impenetrable code to anyone who hasn’t spent hours reading political history. Let’s take, for example, the act of dragging the Speaker. Other than a boisterous boys club tradition, what purpose does it serve? Physically dragging a man, or woman (of which there’s been only one, a purely coincidental illustration of my entire argument), to their seat, so that he can perform an elected job that some of his predecessors were executed for, does seem like a questionable use of MP’s time. Shouldn’t they be debating how best to resolve the NHS crisis. A colossal waste of time.
Due to the enduring dissociation between ordinary life and the complexities of politics, it’s easy to see why the right-wing press retain such a firm grasp over the majority of the electorate. The Daily Mail, The Sun, and The Daily Express put things into an overly simplistic, black and white narrative to suit their own agenda. These naive stories serve as the gateway, for many, into British politics. Without any knowledge yourself to check and balance the stories you’re told, its hard to argue with the ‘facts’ presented to you. And the reason for the lack of knowledge is the inaccessibility and impenetrability of the rules and traditions. This creates a situation where the general populace is, by default, resorting to the most easily accessible route to gain their political understanding; unfortunately, it’s those very publications writing not for democracy, but for themselves.
With the relocation of the Commons and the Lords out of Westminster, at least temporarily, comes the opportunity to modernise and adapt the political establishment in this country. Now’s the time to cut the crap. Perhaps then we can have a governing legislature that is concerned not with tradition and the past, but with real issues that are affecting real people in the present. Let’s create transparency, allowing people to understand what our elected officials stand for without having to rely on the perversions and falsifications presented in the right-wing media. Then, and only then, does this country have the opportunity at creating real change. Out with the old, and in with the new. Let’s remove the unnecessary blockades impeding progress, and look to the future with an eye on improving the lives of the many, not the few.
I neither want to nor will try to argue that it would be anything other than a tremendous loss to this country should Westminster fall at the hands of an accidental catastrophe, be it fire or flood. It’s a building which will, and should, host parliament for generations to come. But, it’s over familiar, it’s become stale, and it’s time Britain, briefly, turned its gaze away from the Palace and onto the actions of those that occupy its seats. So, let’s hope MP’s take this opportunity to not only restore the beautiful Houses of Parliament, but to repair the fractured and broken political system itself.