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  1. Election 2024
18 September 2019

Could the renovation of Parliament change the race for Speaker?

A new case of falling masonry means the expensive and overdue refurbishment of the crumbling Westminster estate could shoot up the election agenda.

By Patrick Maguire

Several pieces of legislation were lost when Boris Johnson prorogued Parliament. But one that made it through was the Restoration & Renewal Bill, which will enable the overdue and expensive renovation of the (literally) crumbling Westminster estate to finally begin.

The question of just how and when parliament should be renovated is one MPs, apart from those Tories who oppose being made to move out and those opposition members who believe the current configuration of the estate is the root of all that’s wrong with British politics, prefer to ignore or defer than confront in any detail. 

That aversion in part explains the decision to hive off oversight of the project, which will eventually see MPs temporarily decamp to a temporary chamber, to a set of Olympic-style delivery bodies. Both the government and opposition would rather it wasn’t their problem, and the shape of the legislation means, day-to-day, it largely won’t be – regardless of who is in office. 

But those working on the parliamentary estate got a rude reminder of the need for action today. One of its busiest thoroughfares, the colonnades between the Palace proper and Portcullis House and with it the estate’s tube entrance were shut this afternoon after chunks of masonry fell into New Palace Yard, the main entrance to the estate for cars and a busy pedestrian area in of itself. 

“Parliament,” a disgruntled government source complained, “is literally falling down”. And though the legislation to stop it collapsing completely has already been passed, incidents like today’s could still have political ramifications. 

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Of the nine declared candidates to succeed John Bercow as Speaker, four Labour’s Chris Bryant and Meg Hillier, and Tories Shailesh Vara and Edward Leigh have pledged rigorous oversight of the cost and timing of any renovation in their pitches to MPs. 

The early favourite, Lindsay Hoyle, told the New Statesman in March that the Commons should leave the Palace for a temporary purpose-built chamber as soon as possible. Harriet Harman, his main rival, has yet to mention the issue at all.

While much of the discussion so far has focused on the extent to which Bercow’s would-be successors would continue or abandon his approach to managing the chamber and the Brexit process incidents like today’s could see the question of the parliamentary estate become a new and important dividing line. 

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