Can we move Parliament, please.
Places have fixed cultures. If you don’t believe me why not try this for yourself by walking into any religious or spiritual place and noticing how your behaviour changes, or visiting your old school and noticing the memories and feelings that return. In Japan they believe that spaces having meanings before any activity occurs in them, that a space is about relationships between people. They use the word “tokoro” to describe the idea of place as indistinguishable from the historical, cultural, social, and other connections contained within it. This idea was also held by Sir Winston Churchill who argued strongly that the House of Commons be rebuilt exactly as it was after it was damaged by bombing in 1941. He believed it’s oblong shape held the Party system in place and made it emotionally difficult to cross from the left to right side of the House of Commons saying “Logic is a poor guide compared with custom”. He also went on to say about the House of Commons building
“It has a collective personality which enjoys the regard of the public and which imposes itself upon the conduct not only of individual Members but of parties. It has a code of its own which everyone knows, and it has means of its own of enforcing those manners and habits which have grown up and have been found to be an essential part of our Parliamentary life.” (HC Deb 28 October 1943 vol 393 cc403-73)
I have been wondering if it is time for the UK to move Parliament to a new place. The grandeur and history of the Palace of Westminster is undeniable and it was built for a different age with different needs. It is designed to be adversarial and this is the reason Winston Churchill had it rebuilt to the same design rather than modernising it and making it circular like other countries have done. This adversarial approach has been proven not to help when dealing with complexity and I believe the issues now facing Governments all over the world are complex. The UK Government has agreed this is a time of climate crisis and this, if nothing else, is a complex issue along with the growing issue of unbalanced wealth distribution and yet I do not see much change of behaviour by the majority of politicians.
This got me thinking and pondering about all I have learned about how change happens in organisations. A repeating pattern when an organisation needs to make a radical change, often due to competition in the market, is to set up a ‘greenfield’ site where they can bypass the existing culture and free themselves to be different and responsive to customers needs. Maybe it is time for Parliament to move to a different site closer to the electorate and, as a side benefit, somewhere that is cheaper to run and cheaper for more people to travel to.
What would it be like if we moved Parliament to an unused Government building in Hull, Blackpool, Sunderland or Penzance? The BBC moved to Salford in order to cut costs and generate jobs so why not Parliament? I imagine the whole nature and content of conversations would change without the affluent surroundings of Westminster. It would be a long way to travel for corporate hospitality – although I am not naïve enough to think large businesses would not tempt politicians back into London.
If politicians and civil servants were living and working in a much poorer area would they start demanding improvements? Would they want better road, rail and air links? Better housing and healthcare? There would certainly be no need for a London weighting on salaries. Would the type of people who want to be MP’s change if it was no longer London based?
I understand there are many things to consider and overcome in such a move but I believe the benefits will far outweigh these in the long term.
HOUSE OF COMMONS REBUILDING, HC Deb 28 October 1943 vol 393 cc403-73
The Japanese words for “space” could change your view of the world by Jerrold McGrath, January 18, 2018