It’s our very own National Theatre of Cruelty, an antiquated forum of futility. On one side the benches are occupied by the defenders of property rights and privilege, drawn from the products of private education and Oxbridge, supported by subaltern recruits from the lower orders attracted by the prospect of personal enrichment and all too happy to identify with the interests of their social superiors. All of which enables them to operate in a culture of impunity. Opposite them is a motley assortment of lost causes including sundry nationalists, an official opposition with a nominal commitment to social justice, minority parties and some empty spaces that the most intransigent of nationalists refuse to occupy. Bewigged courtiers in pantomime costume strut back and forth bearing fundamentally useless objects of veneration without which proceedings cannot go ahead.
Teams of scribes and record keepers toil away in the orchestra pit while the Remembrancer lurks in the under gallery, poised to intervene should anything arise that is less than favourable to the interests of the City of London. (The Wikipedia description of this shady character is at such great pains to point out how little influence he has, that you may wonder why he exists at all.) The chamber has been designed to facilitate the exchange of insults and though much time is devoted to this, it’s an offence of the utmost gravity to accuse another member of lying. Otherwise accountability is nugatory, members may attend as little as they wish without sanction and their degree of participation and voting is for them to decide. As a general rule the greater their majority, the poorer the service offered to constituents leaving them well placed to take on additional, often better paid jobs. These tend to be in the legal profession, in business and financial services (in an advisory capacity) or as well rewarded gobshites on GB News. There is no inspectorate of MPs and no requirement to report their activities to constituents.
Supporters of these anachronisms loudly proclaim that they are what makes Parliament so unique and special while remaining silent on the point that they act as enforcers of the status quo, inhibiting any change that might result in wealth redistribution or rebalance the existing power structure. Even the architecture has a part to play - Barry and Pugin’s Gothic Revival extravaganza invokes the England of stately homes, medieval Oxbridge colleges and ancient private schools - a Hogwarts orgy of ornamentation entirely familiar to members who have grown up with it but disconcerting and intimidating to those of more humble origins for whom the message is “this place is not for you”. Every attempt to update facilities and procedures fails in the face of furious opposition and an exorbitant refurbishment plan is currently stalled while ongoing repairs are costing the taxpayer £2 million a week. There’s an almost irresistible impulse in British public life to employ delay as an avoidance strategy (contaminated blood scandal, Grenfell, Hillsborough, Post Office/Fujitsu IT scandal) so it seems inevitable that Parliament itself should fall victim to institutional procrastination. In the spirit of doing more with less (so often commended by government), a budget solution would be a repurposed fulfilment centre in the Northumbria town of Haltwhistle, the geographic centre of the UK. Appleby Parva in Leicestershire is the centre of population in the UK and suggests an alternative location. Ancillary services and committee rooms could be housed in site offices and Portakabins which would have the merit of giving parliamentarians a taste of the working conditions enjoyed by millions of their constituents. Compulsory annual reports to constituents could include attendance, voting and speaking record, donations received and freebies, income earned from additional occupations, assistance to constituents, links to lobby groups and details of overseas jollies. A little bit of accountability and transparency, could be simply posted online once a year - it’s never going to happen.