MPs have voted by a narrow margin to leave for Palace of Westminster for an estimated six years so that some long-overdue TLC can be applied to the heart of government. By 236 votes to 220, MPs have chosen to evict themselves from the mother of all parliaments, beginning in the year 2025.
I guarantee that a clamour will soon grow for Parliament to go on a “tour” of the country, carrying out its vast administrative arrangements in the forgotten recesses of the kingdom. In the minds of many of our country’s devolution obsessives, this will ensure that it is at last more in tune with the wishes of the British people.
I might be described as a devolution obsessive myself. But to call for Parliament to move out of London entirely and to spend half a decade bounding around the land would be incredibly naïve and foolish. It is one thing to say that the idea of British democracy should not be confined to Westminster. It is quite another to expect the cumbersome machinery of government to suddenly acquire the attributes of an army on the march.
I wrote for On London recently about the similar pointlessness of Labour’s proposal to move the Bank of England to Birmingham. It seems that both our political class and our commentariat have convinced themselves that moving administrative centres out of London is the same thing as giving the rest of the country more of a say over how our country is governed. If only things were this simple.
Perhaps the way to deal once and for all with the movement for Scottish independence would be to make Balmoral the Queen’s official residence and never to allow her to leave. This would surely convince those Scots desperate to leave the UK that the establishment is not in fact inhabiting an entirely different reality to their own.
Of course, when the England football team spent the long years during which Wembley Stadium was being rebuilt playing its home matches around the country, grassroots football miraculously blossomed and we have won the World Cup twice since. This was apparently due to the way in which power and wealth trickles down to surrounding areas based on where the rich and powerful ply their trade. Is this starting to make sense?
This silliness also omits the sheer practical nightmare that forcing Parliament to travel around would cause. Where would its staff be based? How much extra would it cost to keep moving it? How could we keep our politicians, their advisers and civil servants sufficiently safe in a range of new and untested locations?
Perhaps the welfare and the safety of those who serve our country doesn’t matter to the #GovernmentOnTour brigade, which is precisely why they shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near any serious discussion about the functions of our democracy at a time when our public servants are under an unprecedented daily assault led by populist popinjays.
Perhaps a compromise would involve a semi-permanent new home in a city other than London. Some will suggest Birmingham or Manchester for starters. Why would these large metropolitan centres be any more entitled to the apparent honour of having a bunch of hated politicians on their doorstep? Like it or not, London is the centre of our economy and our politics. And so it should remain for practical reasons at the very least.
Petty posturing on this issue only serves to underline the cluelessness of those with pretend ambitions to rebalance our economy. There is about as much value in turning Parliament literally into a circus as there was in George Osborne’s self-aggrandising northern powerhouse. I only wish the London Evening Standard would relocate its offices to Stratford. Perhaps, then, it would leave its editor behind and cease to be a one-man pity party. One can but dream.
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