Why I love the UK Parliament
The UK Parliament is the subject of a lot of criticism. Currently, there are calls to move away to a more modern facility, with debating chambers that are less adversarial. Analysts and much of the public dislike the layout, especially due to the atmosphere it creates during debates — the infamous PMQs is very unusual, to be fair.
But that is what makes it so great. It is like nothing else in the world.
In no other country can you find such an institution, with such architecture, and such an ingenious layout in the debating chambers. It is steeped in history — both democratic and, well, less so — and when one stops to think about the incredible moments that have played out in it, or at least in its name, so many come straight to mind: abolition of slavery, the passing of the Great Reform Act, extending suffrage to women, and David Cameron’s entire PMQs archive.
But my defence of it is not based on the novelty factor.
And nor can it be; many criticise it and propose change on the basis that it is an institution synonymous with an imperialist, immoral, and at times dictatorial past. In fact, the bit of this I take issue with the most is the incredibly tenuous and debatable link from imperialism to bad.
I’m sure that’ll be controversial, but hear me out.
Imperialism certainly wasn’t great, and nor will I defend it as such. The principle of taking over other land and subjugating people is quite unsavoury — but this was, ultimately, how tribes banded into bigger tribes, which formed villages, which grouped into city-states, and so on. The entirety of human history is imperialist, but that doesn’t make humanity bad.
Yes, there were certainly atrocities committed in the name of imperialism too. But slavery and racism existed regardless of it, and would’ve still been possible without taking over other countries.
In addition, many colonised countries are now reaping the rewards of it. India’s infrastructure system, as well as the high English literacy rate, has helped it to develop at an exponential rate recently. That wouldn’t have been possible without imperialism.
There are other historical criticisms of the Parliament: for example, it was for long completely undemocratic, and is for many a symbol of patriarchy and misogyny.
But the flipside is true. In the same way as it restricted women for almost 100 years after democratisation for men, it gave them the vote. It established key rights, decriminalising homosexuality and abortion. It went to war with evil and won. It built the NHS, one of the greatest healthcare systems, established on the fundamental principles of equality.
Gay Marriage. Equal Pay. Devolution. Education for all.
Female PM. Actually, make that two.
The list of its achievements is endless. That doesn’t erase the more sinister moments, nor does it absolve the institution of blame.
The UK Parliament has existed since 1215 as a concept, or 1275 for something that more closely resembles it today. Its origins can be traced back further to the Witan, a group of nobles that advised the King and selected a new one in succession crises.
That established the very principle, in many ways, of Parliamentary Sovereignty — yet another unique feature. This group of people are supreme: not a Constitution, nor the judiciary, nor a monarch or executive.
The people that we elect are in power, not some document written well over 200 years ago (like a certain break-away British colony). By extension, the people have complete power. That simply isn’t replicated anywhere else in the world.
And that is why I love the British Parliament.