The Palace of Westminster is in trouble. The splendid Perpendicular Gothic building designed by Sir Charles Barry is showing its age, and it will have to undergo lengthy and expensive renovations in the not-too-distant future. Whatever happens, it’s going to be messy. The repair bill will be in the billions, and the Commons and the Lords will likely have to move elsewhere during the renovations. Not surprisingly, some have argued that this is the perfect time for Parliament to leave the Palace of Westminster for good and set up shop in a shiny new edifice.That would be a mistake. If Parliament left the Palace of Westminster for a new building, it would probably end up in an antiseptic edifice of steel and glass since that seems to be the architectural zeitgeist of our age. But the Palace’s Gothic grandeur is more than just a treat for the eyes. It’s a reminder that the British constitution has been shaped by centuries of history (the oldest part of the Palace, Westminster Hall, has been around for over 900 years!). There’s something wonderful about the fact that peers and MPs have been debating affairs of state on the same spot for so many centuries. That link with the past would be diminished if the Palace became a museum.
For over 160 years, the Palace of Westminster has been a fitting stage for the drama that is British politics. With any luck, it will continue to be at the heart of Britain’s political life for many centuries to come.