Alert Scots will have noticed the pillars of the British establishment slyly slip a whopping big shopping bill into a week’s busy news, to remove at least £3 billion pounds from the public purse to save the House of Commons from crumbling into dust.
Westminster: corrupt on the inside, corrupted on the outside.
We are asked to fork up £3 billion pounds, and more, while we suffer the madness of a vicious austerity programme heaped upon a lingering recession. The whole British edifice is showing its arthritic old age, grossly out-of-date, reactionary to climate change, unable to absorb Scottish architectural elements, generally clapped out and decrepit. And that’s just Unionist politicians.
The Palace of Westminster is tumbling down.
Visions of gargoyles falling off pediments, flagstones giving way under the weight of corpulent politicians, toilets smelling like a sewage plant. I thought the British Constitution is immune to dissolution, free from prostitution, no Scottish contribution… it would seem not.
To my mind they should sell the place to Best Western Hotels – ‘Every room has breath-taking views of London, England, and the capital city’s wonderful river Thames,‘ or use it as a transit camp for illegal immigrants, which as far as Nigel Farage is concerned is anybody and everybody who pronounces ‘Prince Harry’ without dropping the ‘H’.
On my one visit to the Palace of Westminster I couldn’t leave fast enough, but then I am no lover of the Gothic style – too oppressive and over-ornate for my taste. It reminded me of a disused, musty Victorian railway station. I half-expected the ghost of John Betjeman to appear from behind a marble statue waxing lyrical about vaulted ceilings and sensuous pilasters, all related in gentle doggerel.
Three billion pounds won’t be the ultimate amount. There are the extras. What about the electronic direct line at each MP’s seat to the local rent boy company, ‘Hot Pants’? And extra-padded chairs to comfort the whipped posterior of politicians educated at Eton and Harrow. An asbestos sealed room could help release vengeful emotions, a place where drunken MPs can set fire to curtains in safety.
Money, money, money
The Scottish Parliament over-spend was a mere £350 million. How much overage did the construction of the Palace of Westminster accrue? I will attend to that question later.
Inside knowledge reminds me much of the Scottish Parliament’s woes can be laid at the door of the inaugural First Minister, Donald Dewar. If he was going to be remembered for anything more than his machine-gun speech delivery it was the recreation of Scotland’s parliament. No half-measures for him.
He was hell-bent on choosing a parcel of land far too small for his architect’s plans. He was warned of the need to increase the building’s size to accommodate MSP’s offices, short-term accommodation, and a car park. He ignored all advice. Spaniard Enrico Miralles was his choice of architect. He was not to know Miralles was going to die within months, but then, he ignored all submissions from distinguished Scots and English architects. There was no discernible process of selection.
Miralles saw the parliament as his destiny.
For Dewar and Miralles it was a case of where egos dare.
Plans began with a novel concept of giant upturned boats and ended with a mishmash of buildings squashed together. The inside is all weird angles, complex cross beams, and corridors narrowing to a point. The exterior is a catastrophe of silly windows like swinging fairground gondolas, nonsense black screens, and faux wooden spars everywhere to defeat terrorist attacks from lovers of beauty.
Miralles was determined to create a vanity project. He stated the only art in the building was to be his and he designed interiors to exclude art. Frankly, he should have been shown the door but would probably redesign it with a quirky shape covered in bamboo staves.
Aerial view shows an enmeshing of buildings at conflicting angles crowded tight together. Too many buildings on too small an area. The ‘great exterior public meeting place,’ a large plaza, envisaged as a place to debate issues of the day where people could congregate or protest, the same Miralles considered inseparable from a ‘seat of democracy’, never stood a chance of surviving. It got consumed by MP’s needs. Very symbolic.
A deathly task
Miralles died before the building was barely above the foundations leaving others to interpret his ideas – a fantasy self-serving brief – ideas he had never actually written down or sketched. The presiding architectural company, seeing large amounts of dosh vanishing into the distance, asserted they could implement everything that was in his head. In the event, it was his wife who stepped in to ensure his fee notes were issued regularly. Donald Dewar died not long afterwards, his historical role fulfilled.
The Parliament has won architectural awards, described by the American landscape architect and theorist, Charles Jenks, as “a tour de force of arts and crafts and quality without parallel in the last 100 years of British architecture.” He would say that. He is a lover of the plagiarist’s passport, post-modern. I am still looking for the arts and crafts.
Anyhow, we have our parliament now and must live with it. To build the Parliament, the headquarters of Scottish and Newcastle Breweries had first to be demolished, a very sad day for boozy parliamentarians witnessing the event with mixed emotions.
Incidentally, the V&A’s new waterside museum in Dundee is modelled on a ship, and alarmingly, like dough rising visibly in an oven, is also doubling its initial estimate of costs. The architect is not Scottish. When it comes to nationally important buildings it appears Scots are not the chosen ones, Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s one exception excluded, the School of Art, now severely damaged by a fire caused by an idiot student and his tutor. No one has been charged with criminal negligence. I digress.
I name this ship Holyrood
It’s ten years to the month since the HM the Queen opened the new Parliament building, a gaudy over-decorated wedding cake slap bang next to her Palace of Holyrood, but not half as gaudy as the tourist crap sold in Her Palace shop across the road, guaranteed to cause acute nausea, and have you run out screaming from the vulgarity.
The House of Gothic Horrors
How long did it take to build the Palace of Westminster, and was it on budget? This comes from the official House of Commons history:
“The construction of the new Palace began in 1840. While architect Charles Barry estimated a construction time of six years, at an estimated cost of £724,986, the project in fact took more than 30 years, at a cost of over £2 million.“
By the time all the extra buildings were finished, Big Ben too, it ran over budget massively. If we include the rebuilding of the House of Lords after fire destroyed it, (1834) then in today’s values it all cost about £1.3 billion. By previous example we can expect the proposed refurbishment rise to £7.5 billion, and take at least ten years to complete.
The speaker of the House, John Bercow, (‘cashcow’?) has a lovely euphemism for the cost of renewing the cast iron roof, leaking crumbling lime stonework, and getting rid of the asbestos. He calls it “Not inconsequential.” It makes renewing Trident a ‘tidy sum,’ and the cost of the war in Afghanistan a ‘sizeable amount.’
In English architectural folklore the chief place for the defence of the realm is considered to be a ‘stunning example of the neo-Gothic style.’ It is, in reality, a rabbit warren of hideous corridors and back stairs no one would want to inhabit, a nightmare to modernise.
The palace was hit by Nazi bombs on 14 occasions during the second world war. When one destroyed the Commons chamber completely, MPs simply used other rooms in the Palace to continue the business of government. I can hear dear old Betjeman now:
‘Come on bombs, rain down on our MP’s galaxy, As a seat of democracy it’s a long-held fallacy.’
The campaign group Generation Rent want it used as affordable housing, a good idea, though expenses hooked MP’s are bound to grab one as their second home. All the talk of decentralising power ought have seen Westminster move the parliament to Leeds or Manchester years ago.
A common use for the Commons
When you think about it, Westminster really ought to be a museum. School children could visit it to see how a small nation concentrated power in one place for three hundred years, where people talk bollocks most of the day, verbally abusing each other, and then share a pint in the bar later where they physically beat each other up. Then there are the oldies in the House of Lords who drone obnoxious codswallop about Scotland and fall asleep.
Let the grotesque Palace of Westminster fall into the Thames where it belongs. It represents a notional democracy, a ‘pretendy’ parliament.