The Palace of Westminster is a powerful building. I’m not just speaking of the authority exercised within it, but of the building itself.
Anyone walking into Westminster Hall, or standing at the Despatch Box, is struck by the weight of the place. For MPs, in particular, it’s a reminder of their responsibilities to a thousand-year history, and to a nation of millions.
Even the greatest politicians of each age would acknowledge that the Palace had an unerring ability to put them in their place – you may be important in your day, it whispers, but you are just another sentence in my story. It’s humbling, and a bit of humility never goes amiss in politics.
That’s the experience of most parliamentarians, but not all, it seems. Half-launching his bid for the Labour leadership in The Observer today, Chuka Umunna gives a rather different view:
“We should be saying: it is time for parliament to move out of the relic that is the Palace of Westminster and into a new, modern, accessible site fit for purpose…”
That’s right, confronted with the combined artistry of Barry, Pugin and un-named medieval masters, with the opportunity to walk the same halls as Churchill, Disraeli or Keir Hardie, with one of the most iconic buildings in the world, what is Umunna’s response?
“Meh, it’s a bit old. Can’t we have something more shiny?”
How arrogant must someone be to seriously propose ditching the Palace? If Umunna can’t see that some things are bigger, and more important, than him, or that he is there to serve as part of a tradition, not to just bend everything to whim and fashion, then he must be possessed of an ego of disturbing proportions.