The Decay of Democracy
Democracy and liberty are mouldering beneath the scaffolding at Parliament.
I will wager that every visitor to London gazes in awe and wonder at our great buildings.
Tourists slow in the streets to take photographs and queue to visit the Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey, our other palaces, churches and cathedrals and - for the especially discerning visitor - Legal London and Temple Church.
The facades of these buildings are stunning and their beauty is of intrinsic importance. The facade of a building is its ‘face’, and therefore a mirror image of the best hopes of those who build it. The British people desired to see imagination, magnificence, beauty, strength and the divine in the buildings they devoted to God, law and those who held the highest offices in the land.
Some of these buildings are hundreds of years old, some nearly one thousand. Remarkably, parts of the Tudor walls of Legal London are constructed with wattle and daub. The very idea of legal justice must be the invisible mortar glueing together the fragile centuries-old horsehair and mud; all of it standing for our unwritten constitution.
Some buildings are not faring well. Parliament is in a particular state of disrepair. According to one report, officials are spending £2 million a week patching up crumbling masonry and leaky roofs. MPs are apparently unable to decide how to protect the building.
The decrepitude is even more obvious ‘backstage’. If you go for a meeting in Parliament it is not what you might expect. It can involve picking your way past puddles, weaving through scaffolding and yellow cones and dodging drips. You would welcome a hard hat - not for the political volleys, but for potential debris you might fear coming at you from a height.
The deterioration of Parliament serves as the perfect metaphor for the decay of the democracy it houses. British values are just about holding up with scaffolding, just like our buildings.
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We are struggling to maintain the literal facade of democracy while we know it leaks, festers and rots within. The outer and the inner are inseparable. As Roger Scruton said: ‘There is a deep human need for beauty, and if you ignore that need in architecture, your buildings will not last, since people will never feel at home in them.’
The dismal disarray mirrors the way we as a society have ceased to value the ideas and institutions that the buildings house. These buildings are not just visitor attractions, or places to do the business of politics, they are extensions of the nation’s soul. We have not been good caretakers of our values. Too late, we realise the house is falling around our ears. Liberty moulders in the basement.
MPs do not know whether to move into new buildings while the repairs are conducted. The procrastination and confusion are unsurprising. Dame Meg Hillier, the Labour MP and chairwoman of the committee responsible for the restoration works described the project as one of repair to an ‘iconic world heritage site’ [my emphasis]. This project should be as much about the construction of our future as it is about the restoration of our heritage. We have forgotten how to dream for our descendants. The present course of action would be clearer if there was a path to the future.
And nothing could be more fearsome than the thought of the current set of officials planning the important buildings of the future. Modernity has so far resulted in skyscrapers emerging like dark teeth out of the London landscape and the wind whistling through glazed corridors which mirror the emptiness back and forth.
The problem is not confined to London and Great Britain. Scruton described Venice as ‘a lasting work of the religious imagination, a vision of eternity rising like Venus from the sea’. Well Venice is not rising, it is, in fact, sinking. ‘La Serenissima’ was the envy of the world for a thousand years, but is now a theme park to nostalgia, weighed down by millions of tourist footsteps, the streets ringing with American, English, Chinese voices, any language except Italian. In 2009 local protestors held a mock funeral in despair at the dramatic decline of the Venetian population.
The Houses of Parliament needs fixing, but you cannot successfully fix the facade or the function of the building until you are clear about its foundations. Standing and marvelling at mouldings, windows and doors is pointless if you do not marvel at the aspirations that resulted in them.
Don’t underestimate the vastness of the renovation. The work may not be finished in our lifetimes. Some of the most ambitious plans were drawn by architects who knew they would never see their buildings finished. We must muster the dedication to dream for descendants.
Whatever we repair, design and build must have strong foundations, constructed from democracy, liberty, prosperity, morality and beauty, as much as stone and earth. Then the buildings will be beautiful and they will last. We must all be architects and custodians.
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I finished a masters degree in architecture from a UK university in 2020, I hardly have a clue how a building is constructed nor do I know the difference between a Corinthian and an Ionic column, my physical and mental health is destroyed and I'm in 65k of debt and the entry salary is well below the national average and you can't even get a job because nobody will give you technical experience unless you already have technical experience and firms know that the university's don't teach you anything technical, useful or even relevant, not that that matters because the vast majority of architectural firms in this country are only interested in "designing" ever more student rental accommodation blocks because "it's easy money".
One of the Biggest Problem with Most of the Politicians in Charge, is their very easy to see actions that do NOT care about Our Country. They do NOT care about us, The People, They are NOT Proud of Being English/Scottish/Welsh/American etc. They are NOT Patriots ( & I really dont understand why the term "Patriot" is Poo Pooed these days) . These "ELECTED Corporate Salesmen disguised as Politicians for whom us, The Sheep, have been voting for, have their own business model. A Business model just like the Pharma/Financial/Banking/Corporate Industrial Complexes. Say what the PR professionals say people want to hear & then Screw them. They would even love it to hold on to power forever. They would ALL Abolish Elections if they could & we can see signs of it. Sunak for example, wasn't elected by the People & what happened in the USA elections!? I cautiously say "Most" of our politicians do NOT care about their own Country. & those who DO CARE, are made irrelevant / sacked / or cancelled by those who are in office & control the Main Stream Matrix. Alas, in General, People Obey Their TV set. yes , It's Rotten at the foundation. As ever , a Brilliant Piece Laura. Thank you .
PS: I quote Frank Zappa who once said: Jazz is Not Dead, It Just Smells Funny. I could say they same about Politics & Journalists.