Earlier this week I floated the idea of moving Parliament from its current location closer to the geographic centre of the United Kingdom. Here are ten reasons why it make sense:
1. Re-uniting and re-imaging the UK in a post-referendum world
The institutions which have held the UK together for the past three centuries are broken. The United Kingdom is no longer united, even if Scotland votes No tomorrow. If the UK is to have a future, it can only be on the basis of re-imagining what it means to be the UK in the 21st Century.
Could there be anything with more symbolic power to re-unite the UK than moving Parliament to a new home at the centre of the United Kingdom?
2. Devolution, although essential, isn’t enough to heal the anger
The evidence from Scotland is that devolving powers (though welcome in its own right) serves only increases alienation and anger with Westminster. The risk is further devolution to the nations and English regions, without any change at the centre, will only serve to exacerbate this trend.
The only way to address the anger with the Westminster domination of politics is to transform the institution at its heart: The UK Parliament.
3. Taking Parliament out of the hands of the ‘Westminster elite’
One of the strongest complaints not just in Scotland, but across the rest of the country is that the UK is run by and for the benefit of a ‘Westminster elite.’ What better way of wresting it from the hands of a (real or perceived) elite than to move it from Westminster? Of course this alone won’t be enough to break the power of the elite, but a geographical change of perspective could provide a driving force for reshaping UK politics more generally.
4. Reshaping how politics is done
A new building in a new location could help re-shape politics away from the adversarial bear-pit of the Palace of Westminster, and help establish a more transparent, consensual political culture, no longer bound by centuries of tradition and procedure at Westminster.
If you doubt the power of architecture to shape a more open and transparent political culture, visit the Reichstag in Berlin.
5. Reinvigorating the economy of the North
Relocating the UK Parliament (even without moving most of the institutions of Whitehall) to the North would provide a huge economic boost to whichever city and region it moved to. Not just the construction of a new Parliament building, and offices for hundreds of Parliamentarians and their staff, but the knock on impact in terms of the relocation of lobbyists, think tanks and the like.
6. Reducing the power of the City of London
Moving Parliament to the North would not break the power of the City of London, but it would reduce its power over politics. A geographic separation of two hundred miles would provide a useful ‘distance’ between corporate and political power.
Two of our strongest competitors, the US and Germany, function very well with Government and finance in separate cities: Washington and New York; Berlin and Frankfurt.
7. Rebalancing power away from London
London is rightly a global city that the UK can be proud of, but its relation with the rest of the UK is increasingly toxic. The concentration on London politics, art, sport and media is detrimental to the cultural, political and economic life of the nation as a whole. As a result, too much of current public discourse and policy making serves only to confuse what is in London’s interest with what is in the UK’s interest.
8. Reducing London’s over-heated economy
Arguably London and Londoners will be the biggest beneficiaries of the relocation of Parliament. One of London’s most pressing problems itself is its overheated economy. Land and house prices are simply too high. Moving Parliament and all that goes with it (lobbyists, think tanks etc) would help reduce the overheating.
No long the seat of a working Parliament (other than for ceremonial occasions) the Palace of Westminster could become one of London’s principle tourist attractions.
9. Its perfectly possible: The Germans have already done it
If anyone thinks its simply not possible to move the institutions of Government 200 miles north – well the Germans have already done it. An historically divided nation was brought together by the relocation of the German federal parliament 300 miles from Bonn to Berlin. With the advent of HS2 in particular, it will be perfectly feasible to do the same in the UK: Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool will be as close to central London as much of outer London and the South East.
10. Parliament needs to move in any case
The Palace of Westminster is in need of major refurbishment, which means that both Houses of Parliament will need to relocate whilst the work is undertaken in the next few years. Under plans currently being considered by MPs, this could be for a period of up to five years.
Why not take this historic opportunity to move North on a trial basis?
A number of MPs (not just from the North), including Frank Field (Birkenhead) and Gavin Shuker (Luton) have already floated the idea of moving Parliament north. So why not do it?
You know it makes sense…