In two weeks’ time, we will finally escape the European Union, freeing ourselves from its monumental waste. Waste, that is, like continually shifting MEPs and their staff between the two seats of the European Parliament in Brussels and Strasbourg – a farce which the European Parliament itself calculated in 2013 was costing it 103 million Euros (£88 million) a year. So why, then, is our own government seeking to recreate this giant folly in Britain? Proposals floated today include relocating the House of Lords to York, while the Commons embarks on a round-Britain tour.
I guess that carting the Commons around the country like King John’s baggage train is one way of drumming up business in order to justify HS2, whose business case has otherwise disintegrated at high speed. Put 650 MPs on a train to Liverpool, Newcastle or wherever else the Commons is meeting this week and you’ve filled an entire train. Add in their secretaries and researchers and that’s a few more services sold out. No white elephant, this – it will be an essential part of our democratic infrastructure. A parliament of no fixed abode would be a huge boost to the hotel trade, too – albeit at public expense. Quite what else there is to be gained from shifting so many people and staff around the country is hard to fathom. The regions need investment and skilled jobs, not a travelling circus.
Interestingly, relocating the House of Lords outside London was a policy suggested by Rebecca Long-Bailey on Friday. I can understand why political parties like to try to steal each other’s clothes during an election campaign if they detect that the other side is gaining traction with one of its policies. But having just a won a majority of 80 Boris hardly needs to be scared of policies dreamed up by the fading frontrunner in a Labour leadership contest.
That said, Long-Bailey did come up with one good idea: abolishing the House of Lords in its current form and replacing it with a 100-seat Senate. That is the real problem with the House of Lords. Not that it meets in our capital city, where one might expect a Parliament to meet, but that it is stuffed with 800 political cronies who are only there thanks to political patronage – whether it was bestowed by the Prime Minister last week or because a distant ancestor slept with Edward II. No other democracy has such an over-size upper house, nor indeed one that is unelected. This was supposed to be put right a decade ago when all three parties fought a general election promising to reform the House of Lords. Yet, in spite of two of those parties forming a coalition, it never happened.
It is said that one of the government’s motivations in moving the House of Lords is to keep attendance down. The argument being that hard-up aristocrats and elderly place-men are currently in the habit of popping their nose into the Lords purely to pick up their daily £300 attendance allowance but are unlikely to want to keep doing this if it involves a long journey north. But honestly, why not save money by closing the whole place down and starting afresh with no more than 100 senators who have democratic legitimacy?