The home of our democracy is falling apart and it is plain for anyone to see. We have buckets in the corridors collecting drips, dregs and sometimes even gushes. Sometimes water even mixes with electricity – as happened with a leak in my office – and yet we have become so conditioned to these things that no one bats an eyelid and we just get on with it. Sadly, the same can be said of our democratic processes.
Brexit is many things, but more than most it is a rejection of our politics and a longing for a new constitutional settlement. The myth that “the public will lose faith in politicians if we don’t honour the referendum” is based on the false premise that anyone trusted politicians in the first place. Brexit is happening precisely because people don’t trust politicians nor the way that politics is done. If there is to be any hope at healing the divides in this country, we must fundamentally change the way that politics is done and is seen to be done.
The Restoration Bill going through Parliament tries to ignore the political earthquake that we are living through and aims to spend several billion pounds keeping everything pretty much the same. The Houses of Parliament were designed and built before women were allowed to vote, and when the franchise was restricted to land owning men. It was in the time where Prime Ministers were Lords and the Commons was seen as subordinate – long before the conventions that underpin our still fledgling democracy came to be. It is a Palace designed for wealthy men to continue their Old Etonian ways, while the two main parties take it in turns to run the Government. This year’s elections and current opinion polls are an indication that the two party system is on the verge of collapse. The seating arrangements in the Commons will be chaotic if the next general election splits the vote four, five or even six ways. Plus, the introduction of PR at a future date would make two rows of opposing benches a redundant approach to running our democracy.
The current draft legislation makes absolutely no attempt to engage with the future of our political system, and will instead spend millions of pounds turning the temporary accommodation into a perfect replica of the dysfunctional House of Commons chamber, complete with replica division lobbies where MPs waste days of their working lives queuing up to vote. We live in an age of smart phones and interactive democracy – can’t we save money on the architects’ fees and just press a button to vote? No longer will every vote take fifteen minutes or even longer for hundreds of very highly paid people to shuffle down a corridor, sometimes many times a day. No other democracy in the world indulges such silly ideas, why should we?
This Bill dodges any public consultation or engagement with the project – leaving it all but guaranteed that this project will be seen as a huge waste of money with politicians spending billions on themselves. The Bill does nothing to consider how our political system might, or should, change over the coming years decades and beyond. And the Bill misses the opportunity of using the temporary parliamentary chambers as testbeds for improved ways of working, which might save millions of pounds in even a very short period of time.
To ensure that we restore and renew our democracy, to make it fit for the twenty first century and beyond, I will be proposing amendments to this Bill. These amendments will require the Sponsor Body to effectively consult with the public, to use the results in their plans, and to consider the desirability of different ways of working in the temporary and future parliamentary chambers. The current plans waste billions of pounds on maintaining a state of total obsolescence.