Thursday, 10 November 2016
Parliament: a health warning
According to the government’s Health & Safety Executive, ‘Asbestos is the biggest occupational disease risk to construction workers. HSE commissioned research estimates it was responsible for the death of over 2,500 construction workers in 2005 – more than two-thirds of cancer deaths in the industry.’
The Houses of Parliament are falling apart, and they are riddled with asbestos. This is from the official website: ‘There has been significant under-investment in the Palace [of Westminster] for decades. Parts of the building, including the House of Commons chamber, were renovated following bomb damage during the Second World War. Other areas have not undergone appropriate renovation since the Palace was built in the mid-1800s. Currently, the speed at which the work can be carried out is slower than the rate at which the building is deteriorating, therefore the backlog of essential repairs, and in turn the risk of system failure, is growing significantly over time. These challenges are compounded by the presence of asbestos throughout the building and fitting work around sittings of Parliament. The current piecemeal approach of repairing only those areas at highest risk of failure to ensure the work of Parliament remains uninterrupted is no longer sustainable and we have now reached the stage where a substantial renovation is needed.’
And this is from a Guardian report dated September this year: ‘Plans to move MPs and peers out of parliament for six years of repairs to the Palace of Westminster could end up costing more than £4bn, as a report on the restoration works put no firm price tag on the project. Tina Stowell, who co-leads the joint committee on the Palace of Westminster, said the restoration and repair works were essential to mitigate the risk of parliament burning down or suffering a catastrophic systems failure.’
The UK is falling apart. There is increasing wealth inequality: ‘The poorest fifth of society have only 8% of the total income, whereas the top fifth have 40%.’ There are divisions between between old and young (75% of 18–24-year-olds voted remain in the Brexit vote) and along other faultlines (race, gender), and between London and the regions (a major element of the Brexit vote was protest by those who felt neglected by the ‘metropolitan elite’).
It’s possible that the current UK political system is already suffering ‘a catastrophic systems failure’. A divided UK is currently ruled by a divided government that came into power committed to staying in Europe and that is now committed to exiting Europe, that rejects the High Court’s judgement that the terms of Brexit should be debated in Parliament, that holds a small majority in the Commons and yet faces an Opposition even more divided than itself. It’s possible that more than ‘substantial renovation’ is needed.
Knock the Palace of Westminster down. Rebuild in the Midlands, out of London. On the present site, build social housing for those teachers, nurses, social and transport workers and others who keep this city running but who are priced out of the property market. I’d vote for this.
(Not for the total irrelevance that is the Garden Bridge, on which around £40 million public money has already been spent. To go ahead with this now would be at least as provocative as Marie Antoinette’s ‘Let them eat cake.')