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Sunday 17 February 2019

Tortoise Take

Commons sense

During refurbishment the UK Parliament should move out of the capital. Applications on a postcard, please

In what is, at best, a very heavy-handed metaphor, the UK Parliament is rotting. Pieces of Victorian masonry fall from the building fairly regularly, and the corridors are plagued with vermin (we invite members to insert their own jokes here).

A £3.5bn programme of works is expected to mean “decanting” MPs out of the Palace of Westminster for about six years. This is well overdue: a repair programme has been mooted since 2000 – an idea so aged it is now old enough to vote.

An expensive programme but also a political opportunity. It will not happen until the mid-2020s, but when MPs temporarily leave the building, they should not camp nearby. A mock gothic 19th-century construction with a few medieval parts, the United Kingdom is in dire need of a political renewal.

That is why there is a strong case for spending the six years of exile outside London. The UK is full of cities that could host a legislature: Parliament should move to somewhere like Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Glasgow or Swansea. Places that want to host Britain’s political class should bid for it.

The case for the move is simple. London is not like the rest of the country. The UK is akin to Singapore with a south European state mounted on the back. Its politics needs to spend a bit less energy on the city state at its heart, and a bit more time in its heartlands.

The issue this creates is not so much that MPs do not know what it is like to leave the cosy London bubble: most are deeply engaged with the public and know the country fairly well.

But so long as they engage with a media and a civil service which seldom leaves Zone 1, the incentives for ministers to actually pick fights on electrification of rail services or decimation of bus services is limited. So you have to take the whole of this court out of the capital.