The Westminster bubble

As I anticipated, I left the Palace of Westminster last night having spent over thirty hours in the building.  I not only did not get out of the building at any stage, I didn’t even get as far as Portcullis House within the Palace.   The length of my time in the Palace was exceptional, but not the fact that I did not get out.  Today, I had to pop across the road to do an interview for Sky News (see the previous post): it was only when I got out that I realised it was sunny.

I am conscious that I see less of London now than before I entered Parliament.  The Palace of Westminster is sometimes referred to as ‘the Westminster village’.  It is more than that.  About 7,000 to 10,000 people work each day on the parliamentary estate.  There are two to three miles of corridors and more than 200 staircases.   There are various connected buildings.  The Palace itself is a maze and links to Portcullis House and through that to 1 Parliament Street and the Norman Shaw Buildings.   The nature of parliamentary business means that MPs and peers are wary of straying too far from the precincts.  Any organisation arranging a meeting and wanting to attract the attendance of parliamentarians needs to organise it within the Palace.   Even if it is organised nearby, just a few hundred yards away, the turnout will not be as good as if it were held in the Palace. 

Westminster is akin to a bustling town rather than a small, or sleepy, village.  Parliamentarians are kept busy.  The reasons for this are arguably beneficial, but it has a potential downside in that we are rather cocooned and are not always aware of the wider environment.

Then again, it could just be me.

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About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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12 Responses to The Westminster bubble

  1. Dave H says:

    The day you showed me around (fees demo day, for other readers), I was very aware how little of what was happening outside was noticeable inside. Apart from the sound of the police helicopter, which was audible in the Lords chamber, there was a sense of detachment. Even in the open on the route to Portcullis House, Parliament Square was far enough away that what was occurring was in another world. Had I been able to arrive via Westminster Station directly into the Palace (obviously not possible for visitors even without a demo), I might not have noticed, but having to walk all round the Square in an attempt to gain access I was a lot more aware that something was outside.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Dave H: Quite so. There was a mass lobby on Parliament today by students – quite peaceful – but I only know about it because of information on the parliamentary intranet.

  2. Carl.H says:

    I`m rather reminded of the old TV series “The Prisoner”, I wonder if giant bubbles appear should a member of the Houses stray too far ?

    Of course you are cocooned, your diary denotes you have to be that way. It is the same for many hard working people. You exist within the limitations of your field of employment…or dignity 😉

    You of course cut yourself off more than others as you love the political existence and relish the time spent in political environs. Whether that detracts from your ability to see things from a different perspective I cannot judge. There do exist different perspectives though such as The Lords cost £6 gazillion a year therefore working out your days in “dignity” you must cost billions. Of course you say his perspective is wrong but not to him or others who may care more of the finance than the esthetics of the building and the beautiful paintings.

    There is much Parliamentarians will never understand even when they wander beyond the village, all they can do is not be isolationists and attempt to listen to those not as educated who could easily be put aside by those more knowledgeable.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Carl.H: Haven’t spotted any giant bubbles, but I’m ready with ‘I am a peer, not a number!’

      I suppose one reason I spend so much time in the Palace is because we do not cost much and have to be fairly self-reliant. If I had an office staff, I might have more time to get out. I don’t think, though, that I need to get out in order to contribute to my work. Having a job in the real world (well, part of it) keeps my feet on the ground and in Westminster I see my main task as an intellectual one – that is, to assess arguments.

    • franksummers3ba says:

      Carl H.,
      I certainly think it is worth considering tearing down almost all of the whole Westminster complex setting up good contracts with great auction houses on as many chattles and pieces of stonework as possible. Have a good film-maker record the demolition and use the building for a new pier on the coast or dock on the Thames. Then Parliamentland can be built with chaeaper reproductions and rides throu gh for many more people. The best rollercoaster can be twice as high as Big Ben and with a huge electronic bell that sounds just as good. Where the Abbey is now there can be Weddingland which will be part of Parliamentland and the Royal Wedding being planned can still go on there. With really cool camera and sound support and special effects. Parliament can meet in the Westminster underground station which would be kept and improved with all the new money. It would be way to really bring London as a whole up to date. Then to make sure no econmic thing is lost there could be a good ad campaign at which the new city name is proclaimed “Fundon, England”.

  3. franksummers3ba says:

    Lord Norton,
    Isn’t there a saying “anything over 150 staircases is a lot of staircases”. If there isn’t then perhaps their shoud be. I write you from a place where at Big Woods we have three austere inner stair cases among our buildings and two at a place sort of semi annexed and nicknamed the Bayou these days. We have eleven outer set of stps at Big Woods and only a handful of other in associated sites. So if on your next vacation in 2045 you did come here you would almost certainly feel a severe lack of staircases I would imagine. If I pull in all family homes in the Parish and exagerate the steps into staircases in every way you would still be quite bereft of such things. However we do have more staircases than stianed glass windows, murals, gold plated walls or other such things. We have chapels and shrines, guns, offices and other bits of similarity but even by 2045 few are likely to be confused with the whole Westminster base. I would imagine that the US Capitol is a better comparison but I am not really sure the feel would be more similar there… The stuff would be more comparable however.

    • Lord Norton says:

      frankwsummers3ba: I am more concerned with quality than quantity. Some of the staircases are rather exposed and a problem for anyone with acrophobia (a fear of heights).

      • franksummers3ba says:

        Lord Norton,
        You continue to leave me with hope. By 2045 I may well have it all worked out…

  4. tory boy says:

    Lord Norton I am doing an essay on the House of Lords and patronage, can you explain to me the reason why putting the HOL appointments commission on a statutory footing would enable it better to carry out its job of vetting potential peers?

    • Lord Norton says:

      tory boy: The principal argument is that it would protect its independence. The purpose of the Steel Bill is not only to put it on a statutory basis but also to provide that all nominations must be channelled through the Commission, with the Commission fulfilling a proactive role in respect of cross-bench peers and a reactive one in the case of party nominees, with all nominees having to meet a high quality threshold.

  5. tory boy says:

    In essence then what you are saying is that putting it on a statuoty basis will leave the PM of the day from trying to alter it in any way. On the second point i thought all nominations were put infront of the commission both party political and cross bench? What do you mean by “a reactive role in the case of party nominees?” Are stating that the threshold at the moment could and should be enhanced?

    • Lord Norton says:

      tory boy: A reactive role in relation to party nominees means that the parties continue to put the names forward – it is not the task of the commission to select the nominees – but the commission then vets them to ensure that they meet the high quality threshold. Yes, the intention is to create a high threshold, which applies to all nominees.

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