Coffee House

Why should MPs stay put in the Palace of Westminster?

29 December 2012

Tristram Hunt paints a bleak picture of the state the Palace of Westminster is in for Spectator readers this week as he draws parallels between the crumbling parliament building in New Delhi and plans to renovate the Mother of Parliaments in London. The Labour MP and historian writes:

In SW1, the situation is critical. Forget the obvious signs of decay — the mice; the leaking roofs; the wafts of sewage. Deep in the belly of Charles Barry’s 1830s Gothic wonderland, the infrastructure is in meltdown. The steam and condensate systems are beyond life expectancy. Explosions from the boilers risk the cabling and water pipes. The vertical risers are ridden with asbestos. And like a decaying hulk, the Palace glides on with gallons of water swashing around its basements.

In New Delhi, the fabric of Parliament House’s gorgeous, fortified sandstone is equally frayed. Proceedings in the Rajya Sabha have been suspended during budget debates because of unspeakable smells. Office additions have blocked off emergency exits, while unauthorised alterations threaten structural stability. And like at Westminster, there is a tangible sense of decay along the corridors and chambers — made all the more stark by the new cityscape of luxury hotels and boutique office complexes springing up across Delhi.

But though MPs in both countries are preparing to decant from their current lodgings, the similarities end there. Indian politicians do not plan a return to their parliament, while those in Westminster will. And Hunt is relieved that this is the case. You can find out why by reading the full feature here.

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  • Quinx

    Move parliament to Bradford. Let MPs enjoy some of the multiculturalism they have wrought.

  • Kevin

    “In Britain, it was even more seismic: the May 1941 Luftwaffe bombing of the Commons married democracy to Westminster Palace, under the benediction of Winston Churchill.”

    What utter cobblers. It is the most attractive building in the most attractive part of London. That is all there is to it.

    Why don’t you shower move to a council estate in Milton Keynes?

    Go on, show some diversity.

  • In2minds

    Towns designed by women, but what if Cherie Blair got involved? And remember Louise Mensch would only work for a bit then walk off the job. Do take care please.

    • SilentHunter

      “…but what if Cherie Blair got involved?…”

      It would be way over budget and she would only do it if she could name the building after herself whilst pocketing the majority of the fees.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    What is of value? The tradition, the consitution, the primacy of the people, the long struggle that got us to where we are, the example of democracy and the honour shown by MPs and governments in maintaining all of that. Well, all that has been pissed away and what is left is the bricks. Can we have the actual bits worth saving back? and our sovereignty? It doesn’t matter where you house it.

  • Ron Todd

    The building is a fake it is designed to look older than it is. Build a new parliament building probably would have to be in London knock the old one down.

  • Ashiit mDrawrz

    I think Parliament should be knocked down and moved to Pakistan so the government can be closer to the people.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    If the EU want their office maintained it must be renovated to EU standards using EU money and staffed by EU supporters (not much difference from today)

  • michael

    “there is a tangible sense of decay”… the rotten smell … parliament has been hung for too long.

  • the viceroy’s gin

    Ok, this has been a much productive discussion. So far, in no particular order, we’ve had the following exceptional suggestions:

    – Bulldoze everything and put up windmills in place

    – Call a vermin exterminator (while in session, of course)

    – Put up minarets and make it a mosque

    – Bulldoze everything and move them to an industrial park

    – Let everything crumble to the ground and use it as a cautionary tale

    – Bulldoze everything and make it into a feminist theme park

    So far, nobody’s managed to work the EU into this. I’m disappointed. 😉

    • michael

      Westminster will be reborn… Palast der endgültige Sieg hail.

    • jazz6o6

      You could probably get an EU grant to redevelop the site.
      I can just see the sign with the EU flag on it ………….If there isn’t one already?

  • Sarah

    The whole of England is crumbling, musty and damp. Most of it ugly. Monuments to past theocrats, oligarchs, pirates and wannabe Roman Emperors. Modernist catastrophes. Men’s buildings.

    Bulldoze the lot and rebuild it nicely. Nice human sized Eco towns designed by women. No statues and memorials littering the streets. Parliament done every third Thursday afternoon in somebody’s front room with a Skype connection.

    • Colonel Mustard

      Great idea. I mean so far the influence of women in our politics and society has been so very good for the nation. Like this very practical, sensible and pragmatic idea of yours.

      • Daniel Maris

        Also, women never go to war so you will have world peace – as proved by Boudicca, Queen Elizabeth I , Catherine the Great, Mrs. Ghandi, Golda Meir and Margaret Thatcher.

      • Sarah

        True isn’t it.

        • Colonel Mustard

          Yes dear.

    • Wilhelm

      Sarah, sweetheart

      How old are you, 12 ?

      Ps. What did Santa get you for Christmas ?

      • jazz6o6

        He didn’t arrive this year. The sleigh and all the reindeer got tangled up in a wind turbine…………………very messy !

        • SilentHunter


          I heard they landed in a nuclear waste pond . . . so we won’t be seeing Santa or his reindeer for another 1000 years.

          Slightly more “messy’ than your scenario. *

  • Wilhelm

    It should be turned into a mosque and stick a couple of minarets on Big Ben,

    Looking at the 2012 census results and the demographic changes, one must conclude that the wrong side won the war.

  • Colonel Mustard

    If there were any justice the Palace would have crumbled in shame at the behaviour of those now occupying it and who are busy vandalising the hard won achievements of its past. They should all get out and move to some ghastly, ego-buffing monstrosity of modern architecture, preferably somewhere abroad in keeping with their priorities, since they all seem to care far more about looking after foreigners than they do about the English.

    Then the Palace could be re-named the Museum of Lost Liberties.

    • JamesdelaMare

      More to the point, they should have looked after the place properly from the billions and billions in tax they’ve been taking off the public for years. That shows the inadequacy of MPs and the system – they don’t even know how to look after their own premises – yet they’re all quick enough to get in there if they can persuade the public to vote for them.

      And, in keeping with the architectural merit of the place, they ought to try to match up to the quality of Victorian political debate, and not simply go on and on with their yobbish shouting and jeering at each other across the floor of the Chamber.

  • In2minds

    Duke of Earl – ” A building whose inhabitants past have literally shaped the world.” –

    Now busy spoiling the UK!

  • In2minds

    2trueblue – “Just because we are fed up with politicians does not mean we have to sacrifice our heritage.”

    Ah! So politicians are ‘fed up with us’, is that it, is that the reason they have sacrificed our heritage on our behalf?

  • runskippyrun

    fumigate for the vermin whilst those thieves (distinguishable by the suffix MP) reside. do us ALL a favour!

  • TomTom

    Demolish it and move them to an industrial park or simply let them use Granda’s film-set of the House of Commons.

  • Jebediah

    Err… so what? People I know that live in an old rambling farmhouse are always having to fix it. Old buildings cost a lot to maintain. Is the wonderful socialist hypocrite Tristram Hunt making some sort of comparison with the odious system he was parachuted into in his Stoke constituency?

    • TomTom

      Tristam Hunt son of Lord Hunt and basically part of the hereditary Establishment

      • JamesdelaMare

        Tom – Utter rubbish. I’m surprised at you for putting up this absurd comment. Hunt Sr. was made a life peer by Labour because of his scientific expertise. Nothing whatsoever to do with anything hereditary.

        • TomTom

          Actually Lord Hunt and my father knew each other but why Tristam Hunt is a Labour MP must lie with coincidence and lack of suitable candidates

  • 2trueblue

    It is a historic building and should be preserved. Just because we are fed up with politicians does not mean we have to sacrifice our heritage.

    • TomTom

      GLC building opposite is an hotel

      • jazz6o6

        The Houses of Parliament would make a fantastic hotel, as would the Foriegn Office. Cost a fortune to convert of course but it would be a great investment.
        You’d have every oligarch, oil sheikh and billionaire on the planet fighting to stay.
        The original inhabitants could be moved to purpose built industrial buildings a la Tesco depots, somewhere on the M6 corridor between Birmingham and Manchester where there is a good chance they would meet some of yer actual population.

  • Duke of Earl

    Why shouldn’t they? As you state it’s the Mother of Parliaments and a building of huge heritage and significance. A building whose inhabitants past have literally shaped the world.
    Rebuild it, I care nothing of the cost. People will mumble, but they know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

    • TomTom

      ENGLAND os the “Mother of Parliaments” not an 1830s building

      • Duke of Earl

        Ah, a pedant! My point still stands though. There are very few things more British than that building. Notwithstanding its current Pygmy occupants

        • TomTom

          Funnily enough Hitler writes at length about the architecture of Barry in Mein Kampf and full of admiration. He and Chamberlain could have had great talks on architecture

      • Robin Hood

        No of course, not the Scots had already invaded in the previous and wanted somewhere grand much like their Scottish Parliament building paid for by English taxes!

    • Daniel Maris

      I’d go further. I think it is vital that the MPs, at least, don’t even decamp during renovations. The work can obviously be phased. And I don’t believe the absurd cost estimates either. They must have had NASA accountants working on this one.

      This whole nonsense smells strongly of Bercow-pat to me. The little twerp will be playing this up for all its worth because of course it concomitantly increases his stature and allows him to make his absurd statements to the nation.

      • Andy

        Well you know nothing of building do you ! I doubt very much that the ‘work can obviously be phased’ or if it can it costs far more and is more problematic to do the work. It is usually a nightmare doing work like that.

        It would be far easier to send the MPs packing for a year or two and do the whole work in one go. Mind you the palace should never have been allowed to get into this state in the first place.

        • Framer

          They are on holiday three months every summer so do it then.

          • Andy

            Wish to God t’were longer.

            Alas 3 months is not long enough to renovate a building the size and importance of the Palace of Westminster.

        • Daniel Maris

          It’s a huge building. Have you never seen it up close?

  • Adrian Hilton

    “..the Mother of Parliaments in London.”

    As I’ve said before… it’s not London or the Palace of Westminster: it is *England* which is known as the Mother of Parliaments.

    • Graham N Booth

      Well said sir.

    • dalai guevara

      Just because you have never been to the Courtes de Leon, I would not have to agree with you.

    • Stuart Eels

      it’s a pity then that we English are the only nation in the World not to have our own Parliament and we must query why the three Scots Blair Brown and Cameron don’t want us to have one!


  • In2minds

    Demolish the HoC and build a windfarm on the site.

    • lgrundy

      “Demolish the HoC”

      Preferably while parliament is sitting.

      • Andy

        Come, come. It is already a gas works.

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