Are those people giants? Or what the heck happened to parliament and the London Eye?
It would be wrong to ‘stitch-up’ any move while the Houses of Parliament in London are renovated, according to MP Jonathan Edwards.
MPs and peers are due to vote on the option selected by a cross-party committee looking at how to repair the crumbling buildings in Westminster when they return from their summer break amid reports that politicians will move to the Department of Health in Whitehall. The bill could be around £3.9 billion during six years of work under a total move out.
But Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards has called for MPs to get a vote on moving Parliament outside London. Birmingham has been suggested as one potential option by myself, at least during the duration of the renovation work.
Mr Edwards says there are multiple ‘convincing’ arguments supporting relocation:
- Cost – capital costs on new building and revenue costs of sustaining Parliamentary activity in London
- Helping decentralise the British State by moving political power from London
- Move public investment from London
- Modernise Parliament –suitable Chamber – seats for every elected Member, electronic voting, and suitable offices for MPs and staff
- Reboot UK politics following a rolling programme of scandals which has corrupted the Westminster body politic
- Reduce the cost of government – reduced financial pressures on MPs and staff which can be translated into lower public expenditure, for instance, reduced need for housing allowances and London-weighted salaries.
Mr Edwards, Plaid Cymru MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, said: ‘The Westminster Parliamentary Estate is an incredible building and it is a privilege to get the opportunity to work within those hallowed walls.
‘Work on the New Palace began in 1840 and it had a good innings by any stretch of the imagination. However the Estate has fallen into a state of disrepair and the price tag involved in the necessary restoration and renewal work is eye watering.
‘A select committee of MPs and peers is currently considering options for the work needed to restore the Houses of Parliament with the price tag varying between around £4-7bn.’
He added: ‘These are eye watering sums. To put it in context the Welsh Government is spending around £6bn on health services for the whole population of Wales this year.
‘I recall only too well the cries of outrage from the Conservative party in Wales when £60m was allocated for the new Senedd building which houses the National Assembly for Wales.
‘Yet there is a conspiracy of silence by the Westminster establishment over spending a 100 times more on the Westminster Parliament.
‘The Senedd building was built at a time of increased public spending. We are now in the sixth year of a vicious policy of fiscal austerity initiated by the UK Government that has seen public investment cut back drastically. It’s an act of political debauchery for politicians to spend these sort of sums on their own facilities when the people we serve have seen their services, incomes and wellbeing cut to the bone.
‘The New Palace was built when the British State was the most powerful imperial power on earth with control of a fifth of the globes landmass and a quarter of the world’s peoples. It’s no longer in that position. The decision to leave the European Union will create greater economic challenges with a substantial fall in tax revenues expected over the coming years. With this in mind, politicians have to justify every penny of expenditure.’
He added: ‘There are also other very persuasive arguments in my view why relocation should be considered. One of the great failings of the British State is that it has concentrated economic and political power in London and the South East of England.
‘Addressing the individual and geographical wealth inequalities of the UK should be the most important challenge of our times – not least because addressing those injustices would in itself be an economic driver.
‘It would be a bold statement of intent for the British political class to make by favouring relocation that they are serious about equalising wealth and sharing the cake more evenly.
‘The Westminster Parliamentary estate was not built to service the vast infrastructure needed to support modern politics in terms of offices for MPs, their staff and the media. A more modern structure would allow for a coordinated approach to Office space, meeting rooms and a debating chamber itself where elected members are able to have a seat each as opposed to being packed in like sardines in order to deliberately encourage a destructive tribal hostile political culture. Who knows a new Chamber might even bring in a more efficient voting procedure instead of spending seven minutes per vote walking through lobbies.’
‘After a series of damaging scandals which has corrupted politics, democracy itself needs a reboot. The worrying rise of populist post truth politics can only be countered if there is a radical change in political culture. I cannot foresee the rotten political culture of the UK changing if its epicentre remains at Westminster.
‘The Westminster Palace is an iconic building but I cannot consciously support expenditure of that amount on any building. There are also a number of other reasons why relocation of the British Parliament would be more appropriate. With that in mind MPs should be given the opportunity to support a relocation option when the time comes to vote before the end of the year. It would be a grave political mistake for the Westminster establishment to attempt to stitch up this decision by presenting a fait accompli.’
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Moving national politics to the Midlands would be hugely symbolic, economic and practical move by new prime minister Theresa May.
Symbolic because she has spoken about the need to unite the country and make it work for everyone. During the EU referendum campaign and result, much was spoken about the divisions between London and other parts of England – between the remainers and Brexiteers.
Moving the Houses of Parliament to Birmingham would show Mrs May is serious about trying to unite the country in a way never tried before. In fact, it would reflect her cabinet which has been as much as trying to unify as stamping her own mark on government.
It would also be a massive economic move, giving the Midlands another boost and showing that it’s not just London that matters – even if that’s clearly not the case. It could help move away from what some see as the lop-sided development of the UK, where London is dominant. Supporting the rest of the country is just as important.
It’s also extremely practical because the Houses of Parliament are in need of major renovation work. A rolling programme of work could cost around £5.7 billion, while a full move out would mean the work could be done more quickly and avoid disruption to parliamentary business. The cost for this option has been put at £3.9 billion with the work completed within six years.
Of course, accommodation could be found in Birmingham (or even another location outside of London) to house MPs, peers and their support staff for this period. Shifting Whitehall departments might also be required.
* Of course, it wouldn’t just be up to Mrs May, the parliamentary authorities and parliamentarians would also have to have a say – but wouldn’t it be an incredible statement to make the move permanent and turn the old London parliament buildings into a museum?
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Not a lot of people know that, but the House of Lords holds robes that are lent to peers for ceremonial use on state occasions.
The robes have been donated or bequeathed to the House of Lords by former members, and are cleaned and repaired as and when necessary.
The value was £217,453 as at 31 March 2015*, according to a report pointed to in a response to a written parliamentary question on the topic.
Here’s a link to the House of Lords resource accounts for 2014-15.
* The value of member robes was apparently based on an indicative valuation for purposes of insurance and the robes, due to their long life, are not depreciated.
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There’s also two Shetland ponies who are lance corporals, who along with the goat, carry out duties.
There’s a long tradition of animals being official mascots for regiments in the British Army.
Mark Lancaster, a UK defence minister, said: “Official military animal mascots are a long-standing tradition in our Armed Forces and carry out ceremonial roles and duties.
“There are a total of nine publicly funded official mascots in the Armed Forces, all of which are attached to the Army.”
He provided the current breakdown in an official parliamentary answer after Labour MP Andrew Gwynne laid a question about the number of official animal mascots, their rank, species, rations and regiment, currently serving.
Here’s the list:
As a footnote, Mr Lancaster added: “As their traditional Regimental Mascot, an Indian black buck, is now an endangered species, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers have adopted a British Otterhound as their stand-in Regimental Mascot; he holds the rank of Fusilier and is fed dog food.”
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Whatever the result in the Scottish independence referendum, where does that leave the UK and who governs it? As the title of this post suggests, that could be one hell of a hangover.
In the short-term
If Scottish voters do back independence, in the short-term there could be growing questions about the legitimacy of the UK government north of the border. A yes vote could be seen as a striking rejection of the British government in Westminster.
So, if there was a particularly controversial decision made by the UK government that the Scottish government did not like or the Scottish public what would happen? Would a newly empowered Scottish government, emboldened by a yes vote, simply say no – and where would that leave everything?
On the flip side, questions might be increasingly asked about the legitimacy of Scottish MPs sitting in Westminster. And that draining away of legitimacy would only increase in speed as the date of the actual break-up of the current UK neared.
What business would Scottish MPs – some might argue – have for example on deciding UK-wide legislation that was being discussed before Scotland left the union, but which only came into effect after Scottish independence?
Fast forward to May 2015. This is the date when the next UK general election has been fixed.
Ed Miliband’s Labour party is the biggest party – and he is on track to become the British prime minister. (That is of course, if Mr Miliband is still leading the Labour party – see update below)
But there is a hitch.
A good number of the Labour leader’s MPs represent Scotland.
But say the date of 24 March 2016 is set for Scotland to become independent from the UK?
That’s little more than a year down the line – so what happens?
Voters in the remaining UK might be unhappy to see a prime minister who was helped to be put in Number 10 by people who won’t be part of the same country in less than 12 months.
And what if Labour did a deal with the Liberal Democrats – and some of their MPs also happened to represent Scottish seats in these circumstances?
Scottish independence: Conscious Uncoupling or messy divorce? Possible responses
1. Scottish MPs withdrawing from all debates and votes in the UK parliament apart from those relating to Scotland or UK wide issues
Such a move could see Scottish MPs, including Labour frontbenchers, limiting their functions at Westminster in the run-up to independence. But it could spark controversy about second-class MPs in the UK.
2. Delaying the UK general election until after Scottish independence
If 25 March 2016 was Scottish independence day, how about delaying the UK election by a year or so? There is the small issue of fixed parliaments and whether the UK public would agree to such a delay anyway.
3. No Scottish MPs elected to Westminster in the 2015 general election
Technically, Scotland would remain part of the UK until independence, so many would argue that it would still need representation at UK level until that date.
4. Decide the 2015 UK election on rest of the UK lines
Under this plan, the UK government would be formed on the basis of who won the most seats in the rest of the UK. This could see the Tories and David Cameron (if he is still the party’s leader – see update below) returned to power as the largest single party.
5. Hold the 2015 UK election and then hold another election after Scottish independence
Another option might be to go ahead with the 2015 general election, but for the consequent UK government to only hold office until Scotland left the UK.
At which point, another UK election would be held based on the new borders.
Who governs Britain / the remaining UK
Taking a look at the latest analysis by pollster Peter Kellner from YouGov, Labour would be the biggest party after the 2015 UK election.
Ed Miliband would have 316 seats – just 10 seats short of an overall majority. But this tally includes Scotland.
Take Scotland out of the sums and the Conservatives would be the biggest party with 278 seats with Labour down to 274 seats.
The Lib Dems would change from 27 to 18 seats, while others would go from 27 seats to 21 seats in a Westminster parliament.
There’s also the potential impact of Ukip on the UK general election and how much that could change the electoral calculations.
Some protocols may well have been drawn up in Whitehall to deal with all these potential outcomes, but they may not account for events, human emotions and sentiment,and the politics of the near future.
How about a UK caretaker government?
Given the electoral timetable and the huge issues that would need to be resolved if Scotland left the UK, would a caretaker government make sense?
So, hold the UK general election in May 2015 but then have a caretaker government in place for around a year while negotiations with the Scottish government were concluded.
Under this scenario, Scotland would then become independent and a new election for the remaining UK would then be held.
Of course, there might be worries about the caretaker government not being able to provide stability or do very much. But given the historic change that Scotland independence would involve, it might be a chance for the rest of the UK to take stock and think about its own future.
Even if Scotland votes no, there are questions. A federal UK?
(UPDATE 14.59 07/09/14) Scotland may get further devolution of powers even if it votes no. But even if that happens, the UK will have changed – and that leaves questions about the role of Scottish MPs, how the next UK government would be formed for example.
Another issue might be that of devolution for England – perhaps an English parliament or handing powers to regions/areas of England.
Could the UK look like or become more like a federal country? That’s a question to throw into the mix for another blog post.
Interesting views as well from Twitter including from top political journalist David Madddox – could a yes vote result in a Tory victory in the UK general election because of a fear of Labour being propped up by “foreign Scottish MPs”?
And would David Cameron and Ed Miliband both come under pressure to resign if they fail to “save the union”. That would add further fuel to the hangover for the UK if Scotland backs independence.
Of course, there would still be the issues of what to do with Scottish MPs and the UK general election if Scotland says yes to independence. Would it make the case for a caretaker government even stronger?
It seems nearly £250,000 in recent years, according to figures released under freedom of information rules.
Here’s the breakdown:
The release from the Commons’ authorities also makes clear the rules changed in 2012, impacting on the cost.
It states: “A new policy took effect in August 2012 which ensures that no public money is spent on flower displays in the House of Commons with the single exception of State Occasions.”