This may seem a peculiar thing to say after weeks of anger from the public and self-laceration among MPs, but I’m not talking about the fall-out from the expenses scandal.
I was in Westminster for the first time in ages the other day to attend a meeting about Bangladesh in the Lords. I can’t remember the number of the committee room now and I could certainly never locate it again. The Commons (or was it Lords?) staff were very helpful in helping me find it, although stricltly speaking they allowed me down a stretch of corrridor and down a staircase that was out-of-bounds. At the end of it I felt like a little boy on my first day at school. This sort of thing often happens to me when I venture into parliament. Why is it, for instance, that whenever I show a group of people round the place I always end up outside Ian Paisley’s office?
The whole Palace of Westminster is designed to make you feel alienated. And if I feel like that, what must it be like for a member of the public coming to parliament for the first time to meet their MP or attend a committee hearing.
For a long time I felt alone in this and didn’t think it was right for an experienced journalist to admit feeling a weeny bit lost in a big scary institution. But a few weeks ago I was having a coffee with Jon Snow who said he feels exactly the same way every time he goes into parliament.
We agreed that there needed to be some serious reform, not just tinkering around the edges by strengthening the odd committee here or appointing a new speaker there. Ideally Jon would cloe down the old Houses of Parliament altogether and start from scratch with a modern institution. The existing building (a kitsch Victorian faux-traditional folly after all) could be used as a museum.
I’m beginning to think he’s right. It’s certainly the case that the formal and informal parliamentary business that takes place in Portcullis House has a completely different feel to it. I always prefer meeting people there.
Is there a groundswell of support for genuine reform? I don’t know. But there could not be a better moment.