Here are five definitely not ridiculous places in London we could put MPs while Parliament is renovated

Falling down. Image: Getty.

Between the fallout from the snap election, the hung parliament, Brexit and the brewing civil wars in both main parties, Parliament won't have a lot of time to discuss the fact it needs to relocate in 2022 while repairs are made to the building.

But we are experiencing a brief lull in news at the moment – which is why it is the perfect time to explore some of the best options in London.

1) Frank’s Cafe

The rooftop bar on top of the car park in Peckham is already a brilliant place ruined by the terrible people who enjoy going there, so we might as well take that to its logical conclusion. There’s enough space for both chambers to get a floor each, they then can meet at the top.

Pros: There’s something about David Davis that feels like he really enjoys drinking cocktails with tiny umbrellas in them, and maybe putting him in a place with an endless supply of cocktails with tiny umbrellas in them might distract him enough that he doesn’t fuck up Brexit, by virtue of forgetting it’s happening.

Cons: Really can’t rule out a UK House of Cards “Daddyyy-y-y-y” type scenario if you move Parliament to a rooftop.

2) A selection of boats going up and down the Thames

Some architects argued last year that a Parliament-on-Thames structure could be built next to the real thing – but why not go one step further?

Give a big boat each to the two main parties, some smaller boats for the others, get a big floating Chamber for the members to jump onto during sitting hours, encourage tourists to throw things at them from the shore.

Pros: John Bercow could threaten to throw anyone making never-ending speeches overboard.

Cons: You just know that Nigel Farage and Bob Geldof would turn up again and circle around like dickhead sharks, don’t you. You just know.


3) Northcliffe House

If George Osborne can leave Parliament to go edit a newspaper in Kensington, they might as well all follow and be done with it. Making MPs and Lords share a building with the Mail, Metro, Independent and Evening Standard would absolutely be hilarious and definitely not worrying and bad for democracy.

Pros: No-one in their right mind would ever go to High Street Kensington anyway, so they wouldn’t be disturbing the locals, whoever they are.

Cons: The bleak gossip of parliamentarians and hacks hooking up because there’s nothing else to do in High Street Kensington. God, the bleak gossip.

4) That massive grim Wetherspoons in North London, you know the one

They wanted Brexit Britain, they’ll get Brexit Britain. Watch as Liam Fox has to stand on a chair to explain why the future of trade will be great while the Remainers gloomily dip their breaded brie (Christmas special) in their tiny little pots of cranberry sauce.

Pros: The drinks will be so cheap they won’t even need to get them subsidised.

Cons: The lack of daylight might make some of them somehow look unhealthier, like pasty ghosts in cheap suits. No-one wants that.

5) That weird London Dungeon tourist attraction

The public hates politicians and it’s time for them to start feeling that: stick them in that weird haunted place, leave them to screw up this country even more in a complex network of dark tunnels full of fake spider webs and dodgy fake blood.

Pros: On the Jubilee line, so close to Westminster if they want to get a drink in a familiar place after a day of hard work in the shadows. Also: imagine Amber Rudd, boarding a creepy mini train to give a ministerial statement, and announcing “this government is clear that it is a vitaaaaAAAAAAAAaaaaah oh GOD” while the other MPs watch silently as she goes up and down on the creaking rails.

Cons: There are absolutely no cons to this scenario whatsoever.

Marie Le Conte tweets as @youngvulgarian.

 
 
 
 

On Walter Benjamin, and the “Arcades Project”

Passage Verdue, Paris. Image: LPLT/Wikimedia Commons.

In 1940 a small group of refugees were turned away at the French-Spanish border. Having fled the Nazi invasion of France, they hoped to find safety in Spain. One of their number, a German-Jewish philosopher and writer, intended to have travelled onwards to America, where he would certainly be safe. So distraught was he by the refusal he met at the border that he took his own life.

The writer in question was Walter Benjamin, the prominent critical theorist who has contributed so much to our understanding of urban society, and he died with a manuscript close at hand. When asked previously if the briefcase of notes was really necessary to a man fleeing for his life he had replied, “I cannot risk losing it. It must be saved. It is more important than I am.”

The work that Benjamin died protecting was the Arcades Project. It was to be his magnus opus, intended by the author to illuminate the contradictions of modern city life. But it was never finished.

To Benjamin, the subject of the work, the arcades of Paris, were relics of a past social order, where consumerism ruled. The arcades were a precursor to the modern mall, lined with all sorts of shops, cafes and other establishments where visitors could buy into the good life. The area between these two lines of businesses was covered with glass and metal roofs, much like a conservatory: it gave visitors the high street feel in an intimate, sheltered and well-lit setting. You can still find examples of such places in modern London in the Burlington and Piccadilly arcades, both off Piccadilly.

Such arcades proved hugely popular, spreading across Europe’s capitals as the 19th century progressed. By Benjamin’s time, though, his type of shopping area was losing custom to the fancy department stores, and in Paris many of them had been obliterated in Haussmann’s city reforms of the 1850s and ‘60s. Whereas Parisians could once visit 300 arcades, now only 30 remain.

Through his research Benjamin started to see the arcades as representative of a pivotal moment in social history: the point when society became focused on consumption over production. Buying the latest fad product was just an opium, he thought, dulling senses to the true nature of the world. By bringing light to this, he hoped to wake people up from the consumerism of the 19th Century and bring forth some kind of socialist utopia.


He also warned that this shiny veneer of progress was hiding the true state of things. Instead, he revered crusty old cities like contemporary Marseilles and Moscow, where social life was more honest. In this way, Benjamin contributed to the intellectual movement focused on stripping away the excess of revivalism, standing alongside architects such as Le Corbusier. 

Through his newspaper essays throughout the first half of the 20th Century, Benjamin also became one of the first thinkers to focus on urban isolation. His suggestion that we can be most alone when among such a dense mass of other people is something many in modern cities would sympathise with. His work wasn’t all doom and gloom, however, as he saw cities as our salvation, too: laboratories from where society’s problems can be worked out.

It was 2000 before an English translation of the unfinished the Arcades Project was published, but by then the work had already had a significant impact. Just as he stood on the shoulders of giants such as Baudelaire and the Surrealists, modern thinkers have drawn on his work. Benjamin's concerns about common architectural forms can be seen to inspire modern architects such as Laurie Hawkinson, Steven Holl, Tod Williams and Billie Tsien.

The city of Paris itself was as much a part of the Arcade Project’s inspiration for Benjamin as was his intellectual predecessors. In his letters he repeats that it felt “more like home” than Berlin, and his days were spent marvelling at how the old and the modern exist together on the Parisian streets.

How groundbreaking the Arcades Project really was is hard to say. The fact it wasn’t finished certainly scuppered Benjamin’s plans to wake society up from its consumerist slumber, but that doesn’t make the work inconsequential. His fairytale of steel and glass is as much about the relationship between its author and Paris as it is a theoretical work. By putting the city as the main subject in human’s social history he laid the groundwork for future generations of thinkers.

Benjamin was lost to the tragic tide of the 20th century history, and his death marked the end of the project which could have changed the way we think of the urban landscape. Even if you shy away from the grandiose or don’t buy into his promises of socialist utopia, reading the work can still offer some eclectic factoids about 19th century France. At any rate, it must be acknowledged that the man gave his life to the betterment of society and the cities in which we live.