Could a refurb of parliament mean a revolution for democracy?

The November 6th screening of Riot From Wrong in parliament is a wake up call for politicians. Our democracy needs a third chamber and now is the time to build

Share
Related Topics

In defence of his wicked plot to blow up the seat of our democracy, Guy Fawkes explained:“a desperate disease requires a dangerous remedy”. 407 years later and if public perception is any indicator, the disease he sought to remedy is more virulent than in remission.

As a tourism magnet protected by UNESCO at least, Charles Barry’s gothic masterpiece on the banks of the Thames is in rude health, but its incumbents are singularly failing to ignite the interest of those who pay for and elect them.

Polling data from Ipsos Mori shows 56 per cent of the British public know little or nothing about the Westminster parliament. Further research from the Hansard Society suggest only 19 per cent of the nation feels parliament works for them, with an overwhelmingly majority feeling it is unrepresentative of their society. Push this out to the regions and the sense of detachment widens.

Well over half of people in the north of England say they are no longer interested in the place, a figure that ominously reaches over 60 per cent in Scotland. Next, factor in the social shakedown which demonstrates deep hostility or disinterest amongst manual workers compared to high levels of interest amongst the most economically successful, and the vapours should be up for constitutional explosion. Which of course they’re not.

In the modern age, our antique parliamentary democracy rumbles on without the interest or trust of its ostensible masters, impervious, it seems, to indifference and lack of deference. But an opportunity has arisen – paradoxically as a direct consequence of its physical age – to light a new fuse within the system.

The Palace itself, home to both Houses of Parliament has fallen into disrepair and requires vast refurbishment at a possible cost to the same public of £1bn. Work could start as soon as 2015 and for its duration, temporary replica chambers of parliament may need to be convened, so an opportunity exists for an experiment.

We should immediately consider the addition of a “third chamber”; a dynamic public forum, programmed by British citizens, but hard wired and formalised into the official business of the house; fusing the focus of our democracy with the realities of it. Tomorrow, an example of how culturally explosive this idea could be will be provided to parliamentarians.

A collective of young people from Hackney - who right in the middle of the 2011 riots went out onto their streets to film destruction in search of solution – will screen their findings in parliament. As I have witnessed, their film, Riot from Wrong is as stirring in spectacle as their Q&A sessions are inspiring in form; young individuals taking hold of their realities and feeding in responses to improve our society and our democracy; just what parliament is intended for, but is failing to do.

Imagine if citizens like the remarkable Riot from Wrong collective didn’t have to rely on the outside hope of an arbitrary, sympathetic MP to take in their idea and creativity, and didn’t then have to rely on the will and resources of that MP’s office to book a room, take on the related admin and promote the event internally, often to MPs flitting in for five minutes whilst hammering blackberries.

Imagine if it was their democratic right to table a screening and debate in a new Third Chamber public forum? That on a weekly basis they could independently submit their joint voices to the parliamentary table office, just as MP’s have to - often for debates on the most esoteric, obscure and irrelevant of subjects - and that their event was then put on the order paper for a given day, and by extension advertised officially within parliament, as parliamentary event under the Dieu et Mon Droit crest.

Imagine even further that mindful of regional media coverage, a culture was created where regional party whips then pressurised their local MPs to attend and engage with active constituents not only on equal terms, without the intimidation and fusty processes of the place, but within a live arena convened with initiative and ownership, with the citizen as the host?

Such an experiment cold allow a vivid kick to our democratic paradigm; all possible and ready for road test during the construction work parliament must undergo. But if an atmosphere of meaningful engagement on an equal playing field is to be generated, and a higher quality of democracy is to be constructed, risks - a lot less dangerous than those suggested by Mr Fawkes but just as vital - will need to be taken.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Principal Arboricultural Consultant

£35000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Principal Arboricu...

Trainee Digital Forensic Analyst

£17000 - £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Trainee Digital Fo...

Legal Recruitment Consultant

Highly Competitive Salary + Commission: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL BASED - DEALING ...

Planning Manager (Training, Learning and Development) - London

£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glob...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

What's the most meaningful response we could have to the murder of James Foley?

Archie Bland
The back page of today's i  

i Editor's Letter: Your response to our new back page of sports

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment