A symptom of the contagious infantilism of the Jubilee is the urge to garland anything that does not move with a royal title. The attempt to re-name Big Ben the Elizabeth Tower may be a sycophancy too far. Equally forlorn may be the campaign to rename the Jubilee Line the Elizabeth Jubilee Line. That will be stymied by the vast cost involved.
An intensive lobbying campaign by Tory MPs has failed to convince more than half the total of 650 MPs that the title Big Ben should be ditched. There have been extravagant claims that the matter is virtually settled. The Commons Commission who decides these weighty matters told me that they have yet to receive a formal request or evidence of support. They have had a request from me that St Stephens Tower (the correct name) should be re--named Democracy Tower.
The Palace of Westminster is divided into three segments, Royal, Lords and Commons. The massive Victoria Tower dominates the Royal West extremity of the building. The Commons East extremity of Big Ben deserves the Democracy title. That would achieve the elegant balance of Crown and Commons. It would also be happily consistent with parliament’s historic separation of the functions of the Commons and Crown. At the State Opening of Parliament, slamming the door in the Queen’s messenger’s face symbolises the Commons’ prized independence.
Democracy Tower would go some way to correct the long standing neglect of the heroes of British democracy. The Chartists and the Suffragette campaigned and sacrificed to extend the suffrage beyond the exclusive preserve of rich males. Their heroism is invisible in the Palace of Westminster. There are a thousand portraits, statues and mementoes of royalty. There is a suffragette memento. It is a small plaque in a cupboard.
To those of us who hail from working-class backgrounds, the Palace of Westminster is alien territory, hostile and intimidating. Hung high on the walls are the smiling, stern or sneering portraits of royalty and aristocracy looking down on us in superior contempt at the influx of the peasantry. In his book In Place of Fear former miner Aneurin Bevan said:
“The first thing a new working-class MP should bear in mind is that these were not his ancestors. His forebears had no part in the past, the accumulated dust of which now muffles his own footfalls. His forefathers were tending sheep or ploughing the land, or serving the statesmen whose names he sees written on the walls around him, or whose portraits look down upon him in the long corridors. It is not the past of his people that extends in colourful pageantry before his eyes. They were shut out from all this; were forbidden to take part in the dramatic scenes depicted in these frescoes. In him his people are there for the first time.”
The hostility of the Commons to working class heroes continues half a century after Bevan’s death. Democracy Tower would be a proud affirmation of the quality of our freedom and egalitarianism. If that is too much to request, a simple change in spelling might suffice. The tower could be renamed Big Benn.
Renaming St Stephens Tower
That this House notes that almost half of Hon Members do not support the call to rename the St Stephens Tower in spite of intensive lobbying: believes that no change should take place without parliamentary debate and approval; is convinced that it would be inappropriate to associate both towers in the palace with the crown: notes that because the Victoria Tower is situated at the 'Royal' end of the Palace representing the Crown, a proper balance would be achieved by re-naming the St Stephen’s Tower ‘Democracy Tower’ at the Commons’ end of the palace; asserts that this would be consistent with the Commons historic separation of the functions of the Commons and Crown; is convinced that the title Democracy Tower would commemorate appropriately the great reforms in British democracy achieved by the Chartists and Suffragettes through decisions of the Commons that have been long undervalued by Commons authorities.