Coffee House

Keep our MPs in the Commons bear pit

26 August 2012

The idea of closing the House of Commons for five years will, I suspect, be popular with those who see in this a chance to move the MPs to a lifeless, European style semi-circular chamber that supposedly encourages them to co-operate. The current Commons chamber is divided by the length of two swords, a deliberately adversarial system. It is a bear pit, rough and merciless. Personally, that’s how I like it, and that’s how it ought to stay.

The idea is that moving MPs to another arena would save money as the Palace of Westminster is refurbished. But you can bet a new chamber would be kitted out in ways that suit your average MP: they’d have a chair each, no doubt, and a desk like most other parliaments in the world. You don’t have to believe in Feng Shui to believe that this would be a calamity. When the chamber took a direct hit in the Blitz, Churchill wanted it to be rebuilt in exactly the same way.  He told the Commons:

 ‘We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us. The semi-circular assembly, which appeals to political theorists, enables every individual or every group to move round the centre, adopting various shades of pink according as the weather changes. I am a convinced supporter of the party system in preference to the group system.’

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I spent a year reporting on the Scottish Parliament, and am still recovering. I was an advocate of devolution and imagined all kinds of fiery debates. Instead it was like a dentist’s waiting room, more ‘hamster wars’ than a battle of ideas. There was a seat for everyone, even a desk to write at and a little button to press when they voted. It made sense, technically, but all drained the place of any sense of life or combat. Nowadays the MSPs even  clap each other after a speech is made. No wonder that in 2000 Alex Salmond quit Holyrood and went back to Westminster, where politics was more vivid.

An important feature of the Commons chamber is that it does not have space for all MPs, and even then the benches are half empty most of the time. If they moved into a chamber which accommodated them all, the scandalously low attendance record would be there for all too see – not that any TV channel would show it, as the atmospherics would be as bad as those of the Scottish or European parliaments. The three million people who have watched Dan Hannan’s brilliant speech (for which he won a Spectator/Threadneedle award) will have noticed the empty desks behind him and the bloodless atmosphere of the chamber. That’s not what we want for Britain, not even for a few years.

So even if it costs more, my vote is to keep our MPs in the bear pit.


PS Nadine Dorries tweets that “what we have is unique and passionate. The rodents are a problem, though.”

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Show comments
  • Kevin

    Make them live with the hoodies they want to hug.

    Open the Palace to the public, like the National Gallery.

  • Gina Dean

    How dare they even think of spending that amount of money while the country is in recession. They seem to forget that it is not their money to spend how they like. It is the tax payers who suport them in the house. As commented it will not stop at the quote given but will balloon out of all proportion. Do we want to see a replica of EU parliment I don’t think so.

  • Cogito Ergosum

    This website has become a disaster area. I peruse(*) an article about the House of Commons and proceed to the comments. The first thing I see is a long and boring off-topic thread about the BBC, which in my opinion the Editor should delete.

    So let me make some proper comments.

    1. The HOC does not have enough seats for all its members at once. More importantly, does it have enough parking spaces? According to my own MP, not many spaces are needed: it is only those MPs just outside central London who drive in.

    2. No HOC for five years! Does this mean no MPs for five years? But if you don’t have politicians, you probably have men with guns. In most parts of the world people conclude that politicians are less worse than men with guns.

    3. When Americans adopted a new constitution in 1789 they went for a democratic one. Perhaps their politicians distrusted the People less than they distrusted each other.

    (*) Sorry for the posh synonym of ‘read’. But at least the tense is unambiguous.

  • MaggieLavan

    The fact that Little Johnny Bercow is Chairman of the Committee that will decide whether parliament is to be evacuated for five years doesn’t fill me with great confidence. Presumably he would need suitably expensive premises in SW1 to flatter his overblown opinion of himself? And there is a real risk that he and his blowsy wife would have influence over the refit. And who are the property developers hovering around ready to respond to his calls to flog off the Palace of Westminster? Its all too awful to contemplate.
    If cats have failed to solve the rat/mouse problem then get some Jack Russells in.

  • jazz6o6

    Maybe they should join the BBC at Salford.

  • roger

    Reduce the number of MPs to less than 500 so they can fit in the space, some idiots may want iPads and ‘reading’ but most people don’t.


    Funny how the adversarial chamber has produced, with one exception, 70 years of consensual governments turning the socialist ratchet. If they ever start really co-operating, the inevitable will come even sooner.

  • Noa

    “So even if it costs more, my vote is to keep our MPs in the bear pit”.

    It will be a comfortable bear pit indeed at the reported cost of £2 billion! Who has come up with this fantastic figure and how can it possibly be justified?
    No doubt, as with the ‘Rats Nest’ in Edinburgh the costs will also increase exponentially.
    £3, 4 or 5 billions is more likely/ given the Troughers’ ability to spend taxes with the enthusiasm of a Hal in the company of Falstaff.
    Perhaps the solution lies in moving the House to Edinburgh rather than Manchester, after all. The UK’s taxpayers have bought and paid for the Edinburgh branch office.

  • TomTom

    The GLC Building becamke an Hotel – it seems ludicrous to keep the old Victorian building as an Assembly instead of a tourist attraction. Time to build a new Parliamentb in Salford near the BBC

  • Malfleur

    As Parliament has been moved to Brussels by you and your friends, where it has had its testicles removed, so the House of Commons might just as well be turned into a fish and chip shop, if fish and chips are still allowed and ginger hot i’ the mouth – oh, and the House of “Lords” can serve as a vodka and caviar bar.

  • Malfleur

    Parliament has already been moved by you and your friends to Brussels, where it had its testicles removed. You might as well turn the House of Commons into a fish and chip shop, if fish and chips are still allowed – oh, and a vodka and caviar bar where the House of “Lords” is.

  • Austin Barry

    Never mind the space, the quality of the members seems to have deteriorated over the years.

  • Wilhelm

    Nelson quoting Churchill ’We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us.”

    If you follow that logic , MPs should put some minarets on Westminster, when you actually think about it democracy is over rated, you cant get things done, MPs are only thinking ahead to the next 4 years to see how they can get elected. When Britain was great in the 18th and 19th century, only the aristocracy could vote, they could think long term to the next 20, 50, 100 years.

    Would St Petersburg and the rebuilding of Paris by Haussmann be done in a democracy ?

  • Damien Shannon

    I can’t say the size or shape of the chamber has any direct effect on the conduct of debate. A party with a majority rules as an elected dictatorship notwithstanding attendance or atmosphere in the Commons, or the vociferous opposition sat facing them.

  • Wilhelm

    Nelson”It is a bear pit, rough and merciless. Personally, that’s how I like it, and that’s how it ought to stay.”

    Running the country is not supposed to be entertaining for the media , Switzerland is run well and no one knows who the Swiss president or prime minister is. What Nelson is really saying is ” the infantile Punch and Judy show makes good copy for us hacks, it’s easy to write about instead of doing investigative journalism like Neathergate .”

    • tele_machus

      The world has fogotten about this but just to show how crazy you racialist crazies are:-
      A good while ago, Andrew Neather wrote a pro-immigration column in the Standard saying that although immigration was a good thing and there were sound economic resons behind allowing it to increase, there was also an undercurrent in early 2000s Labour thinking that reasoned that immigration would also increase multiculturalism, which was a good thing. That made him uncomfortable.
      The tabs seized on this and turned the main reason for Labour’s immigration policy into a dastardly master plan to change the face of Britain on purpose, just to hack off Conservatives.
      Neather reacted to this by writing a rebuttal, ‘How I became the story and why the Right is wrong’ in which he said:
      Somehow this has become distorted by excitable Right-wing newspaper columnists into being a “plot” to make Britain multicultural.There was no plot.
      But this idea of a secret plot has resurfaced, because MigrationWatch sent out an Foi request and now they say they’ve got the smoking gun that proves Labour did deliberately increase immigration on purpose as a secret scheme to encourage multiculturalism!
      See that pig flying past

      • telemacharse

        I’ve got a cat as makes more sense than you.

    • Daniel Maris

      My comment pointing out that the boring old Swiss have a more effective democracy is 6 hours old and yours is 4 – so that makes you the plagiarist Wilhelm.

      • Wilhelm

        Maris, Quit squealing, I never read your comment about Switzerland. Good to see you haven’t mentioned the boring old subject of ” slavery ” in a comment, it’s a first.

  • Wilhelm

    How come when politicians go on their annual 3 month summer holiday, the country somehow ticks along just fine without them ?

  • Gilliebc

    Five years to refurbish the place! That’s ridiculous.
    Maybe they should get a specialist team in and make a TV prog. of it.
    What’s wrong with it anyway?

  • Nicholas

    I bet if they closed it for five years without providing alternative accommodation the economy would recover. Provided that they weren’t allowed to borrow and spend any more money. Any urgent policy decisions could be consigned to the back of a fag packet as now – a plain one of course.

  • niav

    “The rodents are a problem, though.”

    Does she mean the Labour MPs, I wonder?

    • UlyssesReturns

      Surely you have heard of Milli Mouse?

  • drakes drum

    Bradford is the place for the New Parliament Building, easily accessed via rail,road and air. The area is similar to London with almost all countries represented which means that restaurants and night life would be a very good substitute for London. Call me Dave would be in his element.

    • RKing

      It’ll be Manchester if Labour ever get into power again…..
      …………alongside BBC HQ in Salford!!

    • Andy

      Well there is a bloody big hole in the city centre upon which they could build a temp parliament. If, that is, Westfield will release the site.

  • NIcholas

    For all the little Labour trolls and Palestinian terror apologists infesting this site an interesting item of news.

    A Freedom of Information request has revealed that the BBC (aka the Labour party’s propaganda department) has so far spent £332,780.47 of compelled and coerced licence payers money on legal fees to ensure that the infamous ‘Balen Report’ into their coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict is withheld from the British public.

    What say you about that, commies?

    • Patriccia Shaw

      This post has been wound up by the Times of Israel.
      Nicholas would wish to keep you all in the dark about the scurrilous innuendo here.
      “Conservative news site reveals broadcaster’s efforts to suppress a 2004 report on its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” Screams the Times
      Nicholas’ motive is to attack the BBC
      The Times motive is to smear the peace loving Palestinians.
      The late Steven Sugar has oft implied that the reason for suppression was the bias of the BBC to Fatah and subsequently Mahmood Abbas in particular.
      This is bogus nonsense. The report I am told by an insider castigates named individuals for misdemeanors of a non political nature in the fevered environment of the Middle East and puts key senior figures in a bad light.
      Unfortunately they are not allowed to report that actually the BBC in common with the tabloid and broadsheet media have an inbuilt bias to Israel partly because of free extensive information from the Israeli side of the divide.
      Nonetheless Palestine will be free.

    • UlyssesReturns

      Good piece on this in the Commentator Elsewhere it is reported that Mark Thomson has admitted that the Question Time audiences were not representative of general voting but local distribution, thereby favouring labour – who’d ‘uv thunk it?

      • Austin Barry

        A typical QT audience would burst into crazed applause and yelps of joy if a panelist were to propose that Israel and the US be nuked by Iran. At times it really does seem that barmy.

        • tele_machus

          QT could do with a little patois
          I posted your reply on my like-minds site(Verboten to you I’m afraid)
          This was a comment from a congenial friend
          You, Mr Barry might think I’m bonkers but I just think I’m free their
          nothing crazy about me, to paraphrase Dizee Rascal from the triumphant Olympic opening ceremony (no doubt a great offender against the standards of English as far as far as our rusty old Austin is concerned). Mle is the most widely spoken
          dialect in Britain with very rich and varied origins that traces a history that I am sure right wing loons and whinging bigots like you will no doubt refer to, dewy eyed, as “the glorious age of empire”; if any one is violent, whinging and inert, it is you Mr Barry, who doesn’t seem to be capable of reading beyond the first couple of lines before reverting to a default position of ranting Daily Mail reader, huffing and puffing angrily at everything with no
          rhyme or reason. You resemble a sherry pickled colonel in a nursing home barking at the hardworking, underpaid young nurse who tries intrepidly to clean up his own mess that he is sitting in, perturbed by the possibility that she does not meet his Victorian loon’s version of Englishness. If you read the post properly, I do discuss the importance of standard English and its effects on
          social mobility but within a wider context, I attempt to nuance the argument, give some context against what amounts to your facile flippancy.

          Furthermore, the riots were a year ago, we’ve just had a much more sonorous and pronounced statement of how proud, dedicated and abundantly talented the British urban youth are in the Olympics, ( most volunteers as well as a large
          proportion of the athlete were from the urban young) yet Barry chooses to ignore this hopeful and bright image of the urban youth who just produced the greatest show on earth, and keeps on barking ‘this country is going to the dogs’, sadly old dogs like him will never learn the new tricks of modern living and will keep
          barking at the writing on the wall. There is an interesting debate to be had about English, standards and change and it would be amusing to have Barry there,
          although a little cruel, as I fear from the mindless ferocity of his post that the old fart might follow through.

          • Wilhelm


            Black rap ghetto devolving culture ( jungle babble music ) has dragged this country into Hell .

          • Austin Barry

            telemucus, calm down, old chap, your shrill incoherence is unhelpful to the readers here.

          • mcclane

            I have absolutely no idea what point you were trying to make.

          • Nicholas

            I am especially amused by “huffing and puffing angrily at everything with no rhyme or reason”.

            Mainly because huffing and puffing DO rhyme! What a larf!

            And no reason? No ONE reason, I grant you that. But plenty of reasonS – mainly things that have emanated from you and your horrid little lefty friends. If your gang of lefty saddos is so congenial might I suggest that you spend more time in their dubious company and less here. Many will thank you for it.

            • telemachus

              Unlike your good self I am attracted to broad churches.
              The reasonable folk like the cross fertilisation of ideas that stimulate thought
              I understand that when you know you are wrong you remain uncertain to the point that you do not want to hear the contra.
              We are sufficiently certain of our positions to debate it with those who are so clearly misguided

          • telemacharse

            Barking. Quite mad. Incoherent babbling balderdash. Another NHS failure. Poor little bastard. Is there no help? Someone, please help the poor little troll. Perhaps some electricity applied to the temples followed by a sharp kick to the gonads? Worked for Brown and Balls.

          • Nicholas

            UKIP and Home Counties Colonels polling at 12%, Lib Dems and loony Labour trolls at 10%.

    • Nicholas

      What happened to Patriccia Shaw’s comment? Why was it exorcised?

      • tele_machus

        There is one subject that is Barclay taboo

        • telemacharse

          What? She was excised because she didn’t pay her Barclaycard bill? Damn, I better pay mine now.

      • telemacharse

        Teledichus took his schizophrenia pill and the post disappeared as if by magic.

    • tele_machus

      You may have seen the book “Can we trust the BBC” by Aitken and the Gibson review;
      Can We Trust the BBC?

      If you have just spent several minutes shouting at the television – perhaps
      this time over the racist filth being broadcast care of the BBC’s White Season –
      it’s difficult to comprehend how anyone could possibly claim it is biased
      against the right. Yet this is the basis of Robin Aitken’s book, Can We Trust
      the BBC?

      Aitken, who spent 25 years as a BBC journalist, has gathered evidence to
      claim that the broadcaster’s news and current affairs departments are run and
      staffed predominantly by liberal lefties. The result, he says, is an output
      biased in favour of Europe, immigration, abortion and public spending, and –
      wait for it – is anti-American, anti-Israel and pro-Republican in Northern

      It is, of course, clear that Aitken inhabits a completely different planet to
      the you and I live on. But his
      book about this giant, unique institution – funded by us to the tune of £3
      billion annually, and employing more than 6,000 journalists – throws up
      important issues.

      One example is the link between the government and the BBC – one that has
      been central ever since the broadcaster’s establishment in the 1920s. To prove
      his own case, Aitken lists a string of Blairite journalists who moved from the
      BBC into politics during the 1990s. But he does not seem to see how this, and
      New Labour’s own almost manic need to control the news agenda, has made the BBC
      more a servant of the government than ever before.

      Aitken’s view on the Hutton report is predictable – BBC chiefs foolishly
      accepted a fight with Blair’s media manager, Alastair Campbell, when the latter
      knew he could win. Aitken says it was a pyrrhic victory, but it is clear that we
      continue to suffer the dire consequences on BBC output since.

      But the most important issue is the BBC’s claim to be impartial. Aitken
      believes this is achievable but continually compromised by the institution’s
      overall “left” ethos. But in a class-divided society, striking a balance between
      the myriad of conflicting arguments that events produce is impossible. The claim
      to impartiality and objectivity is always nonsense. The more controversial the
      issue, the greater the nonsense.

      As Harold Evans, the former editor of the Sunday Times, once pointed
      out, “Facts may be sacred – but which facts? The media are not a neutral looking
      glass: we select what we mirror.”

      And, of course, the BBC’s so-called balance is continually limited by its
      predominant focus on mainstream politics. Since there is now very little, if
      any, political difference on all the major issues between the three main
      parties, so there is very little controversy around which to strike a balance.
      Meanwhile, those who have entirely different views are completely marginalised.

      The classic example is the BBC’s coverage of the invasion of Iraq, and
      particularly its lack of coverage of anti-war protesters – a constituency that
      poll after poll shows contains the majority of the BBC’s viewers and listeners.

      At least Aitken says there is nothing wrong with broadcasting that is
      partial, as long as people know the nature of what is being offered and have a
      choice. And here’s the rub.

      What Aitken admires is the US media, where barons such as Rupert Murdoch
      compete for audiences and advertising with “liberal” networks such as NBC, CBS,
      ABC and CNN. That this would ultimately mean the dismantlement of the BBC seems
      to be of no consequence.

      The BBC presents the left with a quandary. It is more than ever a mouthpiece
      for the government, yet the alternative is a media more than ever controlled by
      media barons whose politics are even more venal.

      The best conclusion is the one that Media Workers Against the War has come
      to: that the left – not the Blairite “left” that so infuriates Aitken, but the
      real left – must fight for space to air its arguments within the mainstream
      media, and that very much includes the BBC.

      • Joe

        Well Blair had around 60% public approval during the 90s, so around 40% of BBC Journalist who be blair supporters,and join the Labour Party. its not rocket science. If a party its opposed to the BBC, bbc jouranlist wont join it pretty simple.most media in the UK is RIGHT WING funded by corproations and little englanders from the Telegraph to Evening standard. The Trade Unions labour movement struggled to imrpove lives of the working man and will not allow the Upper Class Posh boys to control information

        The current CONSERVATIVE media Chief is a FORMER BBC EMPLOYEE.Even some TORY MPS are former BBC employees.
        the BBC is not lefist , its an evil right wing imperialist organisation acting as an echo chamber for Foreign Office.

        • UlyssesReturns

          When tney start using capitals you know you are in the presence of the uber-loonies. You normally see these ravings on the skynews, sun and mail sites. Something needs to be done to raise the tone. How about restricting comments to subscribers and moderating the postings of obvious nutters or lefty trolls?

          • tele_machus

            ‘moderating the postings of obvious nutters’
            agree-Roman mythology first

      • telemacharse

        I suggest you take a long rest telefuchia old chum. Lots of pills and the odd colonic irrigation, leeches and some gentle birching would also be appropriate. It won’t cure you, you’re too far gone for modern medicine, but it will keep you from spouting all your garbage here for a while.

    • Joe

      A Independent Report found that the BBC had a CLEAR anti Palestine coverage, and during the iraq war it heavily promoted the neoconservative narrative. The BBC is a machine of the Conservatives, Even American Senators are worrying about BBC cuts and think the west needs more properganda sources. The BBC represents mainstream politics ie the NeoLiberal Thathcerite agenda which both Blair and Cameron supported

      Wanting to protect your house from being bulldozed does not make you a terrorist, stop walking around with a chip of your shoulder Adolf.

      “The findings, by academics at Cardiff University, give little support to the deep-rooted suspicions in government circles that lie at the heart of the row with the BBC. Instead, ahead of the report by the foreign affairs select committee into the government’s use of intelligence, they give comfort to the corporation.
      Over the three weeks of conflict, 11% of the sources quoted by the BBC were of coalition government or military origin, the highest proportion of all the main television broadcasters”

      • Nicholas

        “The BBC is a machine of the Conservatives”


        “Wanting to protect your house from being bulldozed does not make you a terrorist, stop walking around with a chip of your shoulder Adolf.”
        Brilliant. Beyond thick and bordering on bonkers. Read the history of WORLDWIDE Palestinian terrorism you moron.

      • Austin Barry

        Joe, the recommended starting dose for acute mania is lithium 600 mg three times daily. Your doctor may prescribe a slightly higher dosage, but he will be more acquainted with your presenting symptoms and degree of floridity. Hang in, my friend, relief is on its way.

      • Austin Barry

        Joe, the recommended starting dose for acute mania is lithium 600 mg three times daily. Your doctor may prescribe a slightly higher dosage, but he will be more acquainted with your presenting symptoms and degree of floridity. Hang in, my friend, relief is on its way.

    • MaggieLavan

      Malcolm Balen (In Jewish Chornicle interview): “I have never been someone who thinks one can detect bias simply by counting up the number of interviews on TV. There could be 100 interviews with Israeli government spokesmen but they could be quite critical and hard interviews. Equally you could say that if there are fewer Palestinian interviews, it’s a sign that the BBC isn’t asking enough hard questions of the Palestinians, not that it’s biased in their favour.”

      In other words, his report is not based on fact but on conjecture and opinion. Its lack of rigour and failure to adhere to any reputable research norms would make the BBC a laughing stock. Their object in withholding publication of the report is to safeguard their reputation.

  • Daniel Maris

    It’s a slightly sinister move I think and just the sort of thing that will appeal to the deranged diminutive Bercow – since no doubt such a move will focus lots and lots of the attention he craves.

    It should be opposed vigorously. Let the Lords decamp if necessary. But the Commons must stay.

    Whether the pantomime of parliament is a necessary component of democracy is questionable (I think the Swiss have more effective democracy than we do – and no doubt their chamber is probably more soporific than most) but the Palace of Westiminster is part of history, our culture and our birthright. Five years is a long time – millions will come to political maturity during five years and be deprived of that continuity.

  • In2minds

    Five years, not enough, go for growth make it ten.

  • daveey12

    I would like it sited in Aleppo. Who cares about the cost of moving them it would be money well spent.

  • Jerry Hayes

    Spot on. The Sunday Times reported that MPs will sit in replica Chamber beneath Big Ben. I’d love to know how. Not a lot of room there. There is no need for a new Parliament building at all. Just a need to get the infrastructure up to date. They do this every year during the recess. No need for a 3 year decant.

  • Noa

    And my vote is to move them up to Manchester, and the real world.

    • tomdaylight

      Manchester isn’t the real world.

      • drakes drum

        tomdaylight, I am afraid you are very much mistaken. What Manchester does today the rest of the United Kingdom follows, eventually. There are some exceptionally sad people who actually believe that Manchester is constantly wet and miserable. I have no doubt that you, TDL, are yet another misguided soul. Come on up here for a long weekend, especially when we have our next (the first in the country) Gay March. You will find Manchester will give you a very warm embrace.

        • UlyssesReturns

          I went to Manchester. Once.

        • Frank Sutton

          Not everyone would welcome a warm embrace from a marching gay.

        • Fergus Pickering

          There’s no such place as Manchester. I went there once and it didn’t exist – not life as we know it, Jim.

        • tomdaylight

          I lived there for three years and it rained the whole bloody time.

      • Noa

        Nor is Westminster or it’s enveloping bubble.

    • AnotherDaveB

      If parliament is to leave London, Reading is a place with a proven track record. Manchester has no such claim.

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