Let’s not repair parliament


The Palace of Westminster needs £4bn in repairs, and will probably get them. It’s another reminder of the thoroughgoing rubbishness of the case for austerity.

For years, the message beamed down from Whitehall has been that past governments spent too much. The country was in too much debt, and, as a result, there had to be massive cuts in public spending.

In fact, austerity has always been about the neoliberal power elite restructuring society in its own interest. The cuts overwhelmingly fell on services ordinary people depended on – and that rich people could make a lot of money out of if they were privatised.

The much-banged-on-about ‘deficit’, the gap between what government spends and what it brings in in taxes, is about £69bn. That sounds like a lot of money. But between 2009 and 2015, the wealth of the richest thousand families in Britain rose by 112% to £547bn. ONS figures from 2014 put the UK’s total private wealth at £11.1trn – and estimated the richest 10% of households owned about half of that. The same year, Bank of England economists estimated UK corporations were sitting on £500bn that they were refusing to invest.

In the grand scheme of things, the deficit is nothing. There’s more than enough wealth out there to plug it hundreds of times over – not to mention provide jobs and housing for everyone in the country, produce all our energy renewably, and go a long way towards eradicating global poverty.

This is all money that should be seized back by the public. In fact, the ability to create new money in the first place should be seized back by the public – at the moment, in a little-known but all-important bit of economic lunacy, 97% of it is conjured out of thin air by self-serving private banks. It’s the result of a criminal political settlement that’s skewed society in favour of the wealthiest and most powerful, and is, as such, entirely illegitimate.

But imagine for some strange reason you didn’t want to do that. Perhaps you’d been brainwashed by a criminal political settlement that’s skewed society in favour of the wealthiest and most powerful.

There’s still plenty of eye-popping excess in the public sector you could have a go at clawing back before you even considered taking an axe to services tens of millions of ordinary people rely on.

Every year, the government spends £93bn subsidising business – much of it going to giant tax-dodging corporations like Ford, Nissan and Amazon. £5.8bn goes to too-big-to-fail banks like Barclays and HSBC. £6bn goes to the fossil fuels industry. And now we’re seriously contemplating paying £4bn to do up the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

If we really were ‘all in it together’, and the austerity buffs really were committed to ensuring ‘those with the broadest shoulders’ sacrificed the most, then MPs – public servants, after all – would be drinking tap water and living out of £20 a night hostels before a single penny was shaved off of the NHS.

Instead, they earn £74,000 a year. To be in the top 10% you have to earn £49,000 or more. Half of British people get £21,000 or less.

Despite the expenses scandal, in 2016 MPs are claiming 43% more than they were in 2010 – up from £79m to £113m. The amount claimed for rent on London second homes has jumped from £6.2m to £9.3m – and in 2015, Channel 4 found 46 MPs living in rented London accommodation or staying in London hotels at the public’s expense despite owning houses in the city.

The same year it was revealed that 139 MPs employed a member of their own family, mostly their partners, effectively boosting their incomes even further – and this year, the parliamentary standards authority found MPs paid their relatives on average £5,600 more than their other staff. The public even subsidises Parliament’s bars and restaurants to the tune of £6m a year.

We don’t live in a democracy, we live in a sort of soft covert dictatorship by rich elites that pretends to be one. Most people in the Commons and the Lords should be in jail for crimes against the public.

But until that happens – we have a parliament, and it needs to go somewhere. If the building it’s currently using needs £4bn repairs, it’s too costly to be in use. We should move MPs out for good and do something useful with it – turn it into a museum, make into a homeless shelter, knock it down and replace it with council houses, whatever.

If we’re so broke disabled people have to lose their social security payments and nurses can’t have bursaries anymore, all MPs really need is a big warehouse. Put a fence round it. Fill it with some school chairs. Put in a bog-standard work canteen. Fit some heaters for the winter. Take over a couple of nearby Travelodges to eliminate second home costs overnight. And, with that, you’d have a perfectly reasonable shoestring parliament truly fit for austerity Britain.