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.

 
 
 
 

The Thessaloniki dig problem: How can Greece build anything when it’s swarming with archaeologists?

Archaeological finds on display in an Athens metro station. Image: Gary Hartley.

It’s fair to say that the ancient isn’t much of a novelty in Greece. Almost every building site quickly becomes an archaeological site – it’s hard to spin a tight 360 in Athens without a reminder of ancient civilisation, even where the city is at its ugliest.

The country’s modern cities, recent interlopers above the topsoil, serve as fascinating grounds for debates that are not just about protecting the ancient, but what exactly to do with it once it’s been protected.

The matter-of-fact presentation that comes with the many, many discoveries illustrates the point. Athens often opts to display things more or less where they were found, making metro stations a network of museums that would probably take pride of place in most other capitals. If you’re into the casual presentation of the evocative, it doesn’t get much better than the toy dog on wheels in Acropolis station.

That’s not even close to the extent of what’s available to cast an eye over as you go about your day. There are ruins just inside the city centre’s flagship Zara store, visible through the glass floor and fringed by clothes racks; Roman baths next to a park cafe; an ancient road and cemetery in an under-used square near Omonia, the city’s down-at-heel centre point.

Ruins in Zara. Image: Gary Hartley.

There is undoubtedly something special about stumbling upon the beauty of the Ancients more or less where it’s always been, rather than over-curated and corralled into purpose-built spaces, beside postcards for sale. Not that there isn’t plenty of that approach too – but Greece offers such sheer abundance that you’ll always get at least part of the history of the people, offered up for the people, with no charge attached.

While the archaic and the modern can sit side by side with grace and charm, economic pressures are raising an altogether more gritty side to the balancing act. The hard press of international lenders for the commercialisation and privatisation of Greek assets is perhaps the combustible issue of the moment – but archaeology is proving something of a brake on the speed of the great sell-off.

The latest case in point is the development of Elliniko – a site where the city’s decrepit former airport and a good portion of the 2004 Olympic Games complex sits, along the coastal stretch dubbed the Athens Riviera. With support from China and Abu Dhabi, luxury hotels and apartments, malls and a wholesale re-landscaping of several square kilometres of coastline are planned.

By all accounts the bulldozers are ready to roll, but when a whole city’s hovering above its classical roots, getting an international, multi-faceted construction job off the ground promises to be tricky – even when it’s worth €8bn.


And so it’s proved. After much political push and shove over the last few weeks, 30 hectares of the 620-hectare plot have now been declared of historical interest by the country’s Central Archaeological Council. This probably means the development will continue, but only after considerable delays, and under the watchful eye of archaeologists.

It would be too easy to create a magical-realist fantasy of the Ancient Greeks counterpunching against the attacks of unrestrained capital. The truth is, even infrastructure projects funded with domestic public money run into the scowling spirits of history.

Thessaloniki’s Metro system, due for completion next year, has proved to be a series of profound accidental excavations – or, in the immortal words of the boss of Attiko Metro A.E., the company in charge of the project, “problems of the past”.

The most wonderful such ‘problem’ to be revealed is the Decumanus Maximus, the main avenue of the Byzantine city – complete with only the world’s second example of a square paved with marble. Add to that hundreds of thousands of artefacts, including incredibly well-preserved jewellery, and you’ve a hell of a haul.

Once again, the solution that everyone has finally agreed on is to emulate the Athens approach – making museums of the new metro stations. (Things have moved on from early suggestions that finds should be removed and stored at an ex-army camp miles from where they were unearthed.)

There are other problems. Government departments have laid off many of their experts, and the number of archaeologists employed at sites of interest has been minimised. Non-profit organisations have had their own financial struggles. All of this has aroused international as well as local concern, a case in point being the U.S. government’s renewal of Memorandums of Understanding with the Greek state in recent years over protection of “cultural property”.

But cuts in Greece are hardly a new thing: lack of government funding has become almost accepted across society. And when an obvious target for ire recedes, the public often needs to find a new one.

Roman baths in Athens. Image: Gary Hartley.

Archaeologists are increasingly finding themselves to be that target – and in the midst of high-stakes projects, it’s extremely hard to win an argument. If they rush an excavation to allow the quickest possible completion, they’re seen as reckless. If they need more time, they’re blamed for holding up progress. 

Another widely-told but possibly-apocryphal tale illustrates this current problem. During the construction of the Athens Metro, a construction worker was so frustrated by the perceived dawdling of archaeologists that he bought a cheap imitation amphora in a gift shop, smashed it up and scattered the fragments on site. The worthless pieces were painstakingly removed and analysed.

True or not, does this tale really prove any point about archaeologists? Not really. They’re generally a pragmatic bunch, simply wanting to keep relics intact and not get too embroiled in messy public debates.

It also doesn’t truly reflect mainstream attitudes to cultural capital. By and large, it’s highly valued for its own sake here. And while discoveries and delays may be ripe for satire, having history’s hoard on your doorstep offers inconveniences worth enduring. It’s also recognised that, since tourists are not just here for the blue skies, good food and beaches, it’s an important money-maker.

Nonetheless, glass malls and shiny towers with coastal views rising from public land are good for the purse, too – and the gains are more immediate. As the Greek state continues its relentless quest for inward investment, tensions are all but guaranteed in the coming years. 

This is a country that has seen so many epic battles in its time it has become a thing of cliché and oiled-up Hollywood depiction. But the latest struggle, between rapacious modernity and the buried past, could well be the most telling yet. 

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