David Blunkett: How crumbling Parliament reflects our broken politics

Parliament's state of disrepair is echoed by our political situation, argues David Blunkett. Pic: PA
Parliament's state of disrepair is echoed by our political situation, argues David Blunkett. Pic: PA
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I don’t know whether it is the general edginess and heightened irritation that is affecting so many people at the moment because of what’s going on around us but I have to confess to being incredibly tetchy.

Every piece of silliness now takes on greater proportions and there is a real danger of getting small items of nonsense out of all proportion.

Take the pronouncement a few weeks ago by the Chief Executive of the Environment Agency that we will shortly be facing a crisis in water supply. Well, there might be a crisis in the South-East but at the time he made his pronouncement it was raining like hell here in Yorkshire.

The message from me is very clear – “get the pipes fixed before you tell us to shower less and pong a little more”.

This brings me back to Brexit. It’s the whole infrastructure of our country which is at stake and not just whether Parliamentarians are seen as ‘a shower’ in their own right.

Since my last column, we have failed to reach agreement and, much to my own relief, we didn’t crash out on March 29 or yesterday without a deal.

But as I write, Theresa May has been once again a supplicant at the table of the leaders of the other 27 EU members, with a seething cauldron of discontent in both major parties as their leaders engage with each other in a manner that in another era would have happened three years ago.

In the early hours of Thursday morning EU leaders emerged to offer two new deadlines.

They are June 1 if we don’t hold European elections or reach a deal (or both) and Halloween if we have one or the other.

Not only does this leave the electorate bewildered as to whether they will be voting for the European Parliament, but it also is a nightmare for the forgotten candidates standing in local elections in our conurbations at the beginning of May.

Their local policies and campaigns are clearly completely overlaid by the continuing crisis surrounding Brexit and, given present voter attitudes, the turnout could be abysmal.

Not forgetting, of course, the electoral registration officers and those with overall charge – the Returning Officers who have to make contingency plans for whatever happens and on a timescale never experienced before.

In the meantime, the President of the CBI, John Allan, speaking on Thursday morning reiterated the view of the vast majority of our business leaders that we must not leave without a deal.

In fact, he went further and said ‘no sane Member of Parliament’ would think of crashing out without a deal.

Mr Allan, who is also chairman of Tesco and house builder Barrett, quite rightly pointed out “it’s astonishing that 27 European countries can agree on things a lot more readily than, frankly, our politicians”.

He went on to say that ‘billions of pounds’ had been spent by businesses on stockpiling and preparing for a potentially damaging outcome.

This has been paralleled by the billions of pounds, yes billions, spent by the government.

Money, Lord help us, which could have been spent on resolving some of the grievances and alienation felt by the men and women who voted for Brexit in the first place.

But it is not just the cost, the functioning process of democracy and the actions of MPs that is giving cause for concern in Westminster.

Readers may have heard of events inside the Palace of Westminster which had more to do with the wrath of God and biblical proportions than the debates taking place in either of the chambers.

In the House of Lords, one crossbench peer had just been quoting from Leviticus, raising the biblical temperature and no doubt the blood pressure of many long-standing Baronesses and Lords.

At the very moment when the quote was completed, a massive clap of thunder could be heard outside and quips about the Lord’s intervention inevitably followed.

The following day, water came pouring down into the Chamber of the House of Commons just down the corridor, and proceedings were suspended.

As it happens, I have just finished serving on a Joint Committee between the Commons and the Lords looking at the whole restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster, reviewing the draft legislation and suggesting ways in which we might proceed.

And importantly, to link renewing our democracy with the restoration and renewal of the physical building of the ‘Mother of Parliaments’, mirroring the task of the revitalising the practice of politics which at present is falling apart around us.

But here’s a thought.

The restoration which is already taking place of the Elizabeth Tower which is home to Big Ben is about halfway through completion. The mechanism for Big Ben is actually being restored by a factory in Sheffield.

I have it on good authority – although of course this may have been an April Fool – that they’ve discovered a formula that will ensure that once Big Ben is up and running, and we hear the familiar sounds of the clock striking over London once again, normal politics will resume.

We can always dream that pigs might fly!

David Blunkett is a Labour peer. A former Sheffield MP, he held three senior Cabinet posts in Tony Blair’s government.