Parliament is Just One Part of the Anachronistic Architecture of Our Political Life
More than a month after the election some MPs are still waiting for their offices. The allocation is a byzantine process overseen by the party whips who bestow rooms according to seniority, as reward for loyalty, punishment for disloyalty, for promises made, promises broken, for friendship and enmity.
To the favoured go offices in the main building or the swanky Portcullis House, to the less deserving, newbies and undeserving there lies banishment to Norman Shaw South, which, although within the Parliamentary estate, requires your elected representative to enjoy a reasonable degree of fitness and at the very least a sensible pair of shoes if he or she is to make the voting lobby within the eight minutes required of the division bell ringing.
This tortuous process of allocation is a five-yearly reminder that the buildings of Parliament are unfit for purpose.
It is not just that MPs could perform their parliamentary duties better if they were properly staffed in a suite of rooms suitable to the 21st century; nor the ludicrous ritual in the age of the app of requiring them to vote, often late at night, in person; nor is it the central though pressing issue that Charles Barry's neo gothic masterpiece is in such a state of disrepair it requires £3 billion of remedial work.
The fundamental problem with the Houses of Parliament is they are part of the anachronistic architecture of our political life, which should have been consigned to history decades ago.
The building is just one aspect of this. The closed political class, its isolationist and peculiar language and the machinery of government all need the same modernisation as the institution, which our politicians inhabit.
Behind the bars of the portcullis is a sometimes self-congratulatory existence of almost Waco-style cultish indifference to the outside worldSentimentalists who revel in the Ruritanian rituals and traditions of Westminster are blind to its shortcomings. They appear indifferent to the fact that Parliament's symbol is a closed Portcullis, an adornment appropriated from the monarchy, which screams to the outsider (who are, of course, the electorate) 'keep out'.
With the possible exception of a Mayfair art galley, few buildings - and certainly no public building - are so unwelcoming to the visitor.
The chamber itself is too small to accommodate 650 MPs and its layout perpetuates the adversarial, macho politics of a two party system in the age of multi-party politics.
The passage of legislation, which still requires the assent of unelected peers, involves processes so arcane and convoluted that they still baffle seasoned parliamentarians let alone they majority of the population whose lives these Bills affect.
Behind the bars of the portcullis are cloistered MPs, peers, officials, clerks and researchers who live an incestuous and sometimes self-congratulatory existence of almost Waco-style cultish indifference to the outside world.
This environment has become so monastic, so closed, that not only has the language of the inhabitants atrophied but so has that of those supposed to communicate their message.
Few politicians speak human and few journalists know how to understand them when they do.
The stasis is government is inextricably linked to the stasis in Parliament and the stasis of our political classA political class, which is barely representative of the country it represents, is failed by a journalistic class, of which I am one, which doesn't even come close to reflecting the diversity of our country.
This small ‘c’ conservatism stretches to the architecture of government. Whitehall may be slimmer after the government cuts but it is hardly dissimilar. Only one new department has been created in the last 20 years - International Development - and the rest have been allowed to carry on either as pieces of government flab or unwieldy institutional monoliths.
Change is either cosmetic or incremental. A generation that can order a cab, a takeaway and a sexual partner through an App is ill served by a departmental structure and bureaucracy that has not yet found, for instance, the ability to send patient notes from one doctor's computer to another's.
The stasis is government is inextricably linked to the stasis in Parliament and the stasis of our political class.
We can plod on but we are failing with every step. A new building, which speaks to the 21st century, would not resolve all these difficulties but it would, at the very least, be signal of intent in the campaign for an inclusive, accessible and relevant way of conducting politics.
Jason Beattie is the political editor of the Daily Mirror
About the author
Jason Beattie is the political editor of the Daily Mirror. He has worked in Westminster for 15 years including spells on the Birmingham Post, Scotsman and the London Evening Standard. A hispanophile, he has also written for El Mundo and has a deep interest in Spanish and Catalan history, culture and food.
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