Leading article: The bell tolls for the bell toll

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Charging visitors who want to climb the tower to see Big Ben had obvious appeal to pettifogging budget-cutters in these times of austerity. They admitted that the idea of making citizens pay to enter their own Parliament would be an affront to democracy, but the clock tower, they said, was separate, so a charge could be levied.

The change of mind yesterday – the earliest any such charge might be imposed is now 2015 – was a welcome realisation that this great, 153-year-old emblem of the nation is far more than a tourist attraction.

As symbolic structures go, Ben Ben is to London (and beyond) what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris. It has an almost mythi c quality, seemingly embodying qualities of permanance and reliability that – rightly or wrongly – are perceived as core natonal characteristics. It is, quite simply, beyond price. And that means you don't impose prices on those who would visit.

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