Belfast Telegraph

Chris Moncrieff: MPs need to act before Westminster becomes a bonfire of the vanities

 

Crunch decisions lie ahead in Westminster
Crunch decisions lie ahead in Westminster

By Chris Moncrieff

If the devastating fire that swept through Notre Dame last week does not ring alarm bells among the complacent Westminster MPs about the perils of their own building, nothing will.

Unbelievably, MPs have been dithering and arguing for years about the restoration of the Palace of Westminster as the building continues to crumble and disintegrate before their very eyes. Stop haggling and get on with it.

It is not sensationalising the case at all to express the real fear that someone could be killed unless renovations commence.

Already, lumps of masonry have been falling off the edifice and it is a wonder no one has been hurt, or even killed, by this alarming evidence of the state of the fabric of the building.

And listen to what shocked Labour MP Anna Turley was told when she was first elected to Westminster in 2015.

"On my induction, my 'buddy' was an engineer," she said. "He showed me the electrics - it looked a health and safety disaster (and fire) waiting to happen."

What's more, Cabinet Office minister David Lidington has grimly warned that the prospects of a catastrophic fire at Westminster increase as each year passes.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has described the chances of a fire there as "huge" and his Labour colleague Chris Bryant adds to the litany of warnings with more grave fears about the perils surrounding Westminster.

What more evidence do our ministers and MPs require before they get off their backsides and allow the vital restoration to go ahead?

More dither and delay could be tragic.

n MPs have gone away on holiday, but, alas, Brexit has not gone away. Brexit does not take holidays.

But, before we carp at the fact MPs are swanning around at the seaside just as the nation endures its biggest political crisis for years, let us just consider a few facts.

First of all, the fact that parliament is not in session saves the British taxpayer thousands of pounds - a bonus in itself.

It also means we shall not have to endure wall-to-wall Brexit coverage for a few days - a relief all round.

Let us hope, too, that the Prime Minister does not do anything silly while on her walking holiday in Wales.

The last time she went there she dreamed up the madcap - and ultimately disastrous - plan to hold a General Election.

But fear not, MPs will return to Westminster after their Easter break with renewed vigour and venom to carry on the bitter battle where they left off. Nothing changes.

n Please, let us hear no more crocodile-tear "apologies" offered to hard-pressed Londoners by the thousands of protesters (above) who, in the name of climate change, have been disrupting key areas in the capital.

This has forced more than 50 bus routes to be disrupted and left London's rail network under threat.

The protesters now say they are going to "pause" their rebellion and concentrate on political objectives, instead.

Extinction Rebellion (XR) campaigners say they want to show they are "disciplined and cannot only start disruptive actions, but also end these when needed".

They are "not a rabble, but rebels with a cause", and their second week will be "focused on negotiations", they said.

Addressing the crowd at Waterloo Bridge, TV presenter and supporter Chris Packham said that "because of our force, we will be asking for negotiation to meet our objectives".

He added that, before ministers begin dealing with Brexit again, "we must ask them to think about something altogether more pressing: saving our planet".

Just as well: far from winning any sympathy for their cause, they are simply hardening attitudes against it with their disruptive tactics. The best way to deal with this menace is, unfortunately, beyond our powers: a good dollop of rain.

I remember, years ago, covering a similar demonstration in Whitehall, central London.

Suddenly, the heavens opened and the rain came down in buckets. A police officer looked up at the heavens and said to me: "That's the best policeman of them all."

He was right. Hey presto! Within minutes, everyone had scurried off home.

n The popular broadcaster Gyles Brandreth, Jack-of-all-trades (and master of them all), has said that he appeared in pantomime just before he became a Member of Parliament.

He commented, perhaps a little cynically, that this was good preparation for his new job at Westminster.

Who am I to argue with the great man? But I would have thought a stint in the Rocky Horror Picture Show might have been even better preparation.

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