The cost of fixing the leaking roof of Portcullis House is potentially horrendous, but it is essential if we want our represenatives to do their job properly
I went up to the second floor of Portcullis House the other day to look through the full-length windows that peer over the first panes of the atrium roof. I had a good nose around but, disappointingly, couldn’t spot any cracks in the glass.
The panels were very dirty, to the extent that you can’t help but wonder how so much light gets through to the floor below. During the summer, those of us who haven’t hit a gym in a few years are covered in beadlets of sweat when the sun beats down as we gossip while gulping down bottles of water.
If I were an MP, I’d much rather conspire in one of the more elaborate rooms close to the House of Lords chamber, posh drinking dens where you might spot Conservative leader-in-waiting Priti Patel, brainy floods minister Rory Stewart, or Corbynite shadow international development secretary Diane Abbott. But PCH is where it’s at if you want to bump into ministers and journos who could make or break your career.
MPs also want one of the 210 offices in PCH, otherwise they might end up with a cubbyhole in the Palace of Westminster or a dated room in the listed buildings that are named after the late 18th century/early 19th century architect Richard Norman Shaw. If the whips like you, you might just get one of the handful of the vast offices on the seventh floor and look over the city like a king.
To the outside world, PCH seems like a colossal waste of money, another expense in a democratic system that apparently creates far more villains than heroes. Chucking up to £100m on a roof does not exactly seem like a good use of taxpayer money at a time when rows over disability cuts have dominated the headlines.
But MPs and peers do need a modern building in which to work. As the potential of a £7bn price tag for renovating the Palace of Westminster shows, the central part of the parliamentary estate is simply not fit for work.
It’s the 21st century and MPs struggle to get wi-fi in the palace (not that you would believe that given the amount of time they spend tweeting from the Commons’ chamber during Prime Minister’s Questions).
The cost of the atrium roof is potentially horrendous, but it is essential if we want our elected (and unelected) representatives to do their job properly – even if that work involves conniving over coffee.
Mark Leftly is the former deputy political editor at The Independent on Sunday