MPs and their Lordships must move out of their uncomfortable debating chambers in London while billions of pounds are spent repairing the long neglected Palace of Westminster. What can we do with a homeless cannon of nearly 1,500 MPs and Lords? I think democracy should return to its roots in Shropshire, where the first parliament was held nearly 750 years ago. Our county was not just the heart of the industrial revolution but also right up front of the democratic forces that created the “mother of all democracies.”
I think it is worth the money for the repairs to Westminster Palace. It will cost billions but it is just as an important part of our national fabric as Stonehenge, late running rail services and Strictly Come Dancing. But what do we do with all those “very important people” after they are evicted for this essential maintenance? (Maintenance to the building, not the MPs and Lords, I think.)
Many towns and cities have pitched to be at the temporary centre of Britain’s democracy. My view is that we should bring the whole political circus to Shropshire. MPs and Lords should come to Acton Burnell where the first full commoners’ parliament was held in 1283.
The roof on the Palace of Westminster leaks like mad. The castle at Acton Burnell also needs one or two minor repairs. A complete set of walls and a roof would help. But I am sure we can manage that with a quick whip round and a few bob piled on the parish precept.
There are, of course, transport issues. We are rather too close to Wales for Westminster’s comfort. But Shropshire Council leader Peter Nutting has been promoting the idea of an international airport in Shropshire. MPs will be able to fly in to our green county on specially charted flights. And once MPs realise the long journey times, they’ll divert HS2 to head directly into Shrewsbury. That should mean that while we will be bringing a lot of hot air to Shropshire, we won’t be upping the anti on greenhouse gas emissions.
Parliament takes a lot of getting used to as a political body. The building where our political leaders meet is the same. There are long awkward corridors and pokey meeting rooms. Curious lobby areas buzz with everyone trying to bump into everyone else, but if they think they might be important. There are statues galore. I took my hat off to Gladstone as I passed his marble edifice last year. I don’t suppose he noticed. But you need a route map or a guide to find somewhere to have a pee.
I have always gone to parliament on business. That means I have never got to the bars. Sigh!
Many informal contacts happen outside the palace estate.
I remember walking out of St Stevens Tavern with a colleague very late one night in the early 1990s. We bumped into a man on Whitehall. The director of a business school I had been socialising with said to me: “Have you met Tony Blair?” I said no. I had never heard of him. Blair and I had a brief conversation about the importance of social science, which was my brief at the time. My companion said afterwards that Blair was going places and he was right. But I have never been happy with where Blair went and I will never shake his hand again.
It is this casual environment that makes Whitehall and Westminster work for better or for worse. So, why we can’t bring it all to Shropshire? It will take a decade to repair the Palace of Westminster. Shropshire could benefit hugely in the meantime from politicians and the huge cohort of support staff that must accompany the political elite everywhere. They are people with money in their pockets.
Let’s bring parliament to our county. What on earth can be wrong with a surfeit of politicians? I look forward to it. I am sure you will love it.