Why move Parliament, if only temporarily, from the banks of the Thames to York? York has a lot in its favour. York Minster has a few ideas about itself, but as examples of great English Gothic go, it’s a piece of work. And there are few better hours to be lost than sitting in the window of the Guy Fawkes Inn watching the twilight gather.
Maybe that’s why Boris Johnson floated the idea of moving Parliament to York. Though I’ve never seen him in there. Or perhaps he wanted to march to the top of the hill. Though that, as we know, causes complications. Besides all else, it’s just 60 miles to Barnard Castle.
York is a grand place to spend time. But it’s a bit, you know, obvious. It’s doing well and not the sort of town that needs a leg up.
If Boris Johnson were serious about finding a representative place in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in which to decant Parliament in 2025 so that Pugin’s Palace could be properly repaired, I have a few suggestions. And if Lord Singh of Wimbledon genuinely believes that York really is seen as “outer Mongolia” by the “general public”, he’s going to love these.
Birmingham. Right there in the middle of England. Birmingham has been an easy target in the past as some sort of overbuilt concrete nightmare. Bunk. The centre is very cool indeed. And the people are genuinely among the very best. Also, there is a huge, underused, mostly mothballed, new municipal library. It has plenty of space. The Government could finally show they mean it when they say they are committed to library use. And being in Birmingham it’d allow for some frequent poor gags by MPs about Peaky Blinders.
York is a grand place to spend time. But it’s a bit, you know, obvious. It’s doing well and not the sort of town that needs a leg up
If there is a need for something that pushes things further, how about going north, really north, out of England and into Scotland? Leaving aside the complication that there is already a Parliament in Scotland. And that there MAY be a bit of an issue with having London parachuting in to usurp the political power there, it could be a useful bridge-building exercise. And it’s not permanent. They could set up in Paisley. They could get David Tennant to open it. Or Paolo Nutini or Gerard Butler or any of the other people that Paisley isn’t shy about telling you come from Paisley. There’s a good bit of space in the Abbey too for 650 folk to meet. Paisley lost out, narrowly, to Coventry (another great Midlands city) in the race to be 2021 City Of Culture. So this would show real support.
It could be that there is a desire to head across the Irish Sea and wash up in Northern Ireland. Clearly, the devolved Parliament issue is a nut to crack, again, but Brexit border problems are going to increasingly leave the six counties feeling annoyed and very distant from London. Setting up in Northern Ireland would show a very real desire to mend fences. Move beyond the obvious Belfast and Derry to a town I know very well – Ballymena. In Irish it means, literally, Middle Town. So that’s good. It has two shopping centres, the Tower Centre and the Fairhill, so MPs will not be short on competitively priced trousers. And the Showgrounds in the north of the town recently played host to an outdoor drive-in concert. There was enough space for a number of tractors, so visiting representatives from across the UK are guaranteed parking AND a potential outdoor location should coronavirus necessitate it in the future. Also, Liam Neeson comes from Ballymena, so there will be NO trouble from anybody.
It is a very good idea to move the engine of centralised democracy to some other place. It’s a good idea to allow people to feel they’re, literally, closer to where decisions that impact on their lives are made. It would be good to think there was a serious desire to do this.
I’m just not sure that exists.
Paul McNamee is editor of The Big Issue