Lord Wei is a Conservative member of the House of Lords. He is a co-founder of Teach First, a social entrepreneur, and a former government adviser.
There has been a lot of talk about sending Parliament to York, as a means to reconnect with the public. While it is only right to review the cost of moving Parliament out for refurbishment, my sense is that moving to York is actually not radical enough given what we now know is possible – having moved to hybrid sittings as a result of Covid-19.
Shifting to York, a fairly affluent city in the North, would be costly, at a time when the country can little afford it. Whether it will allow people to feel closer to their politicians is not clear.
What might be better, cheaper and more radical would be to enable Parliament to meet virtually using future technologies such as augmented and virtual reality, wikis, breakout lobbies and Committee rooms that the public can visit, observe and participate in.
These technologies will mature in the coming five years or more, and will be much cheaper to implement than a temporary or permanent move to elsewhere in Westminster, York, or anywhere else.
In fact, why not go a step further and harness this opportunity for the Mother of Parliaments to find new ways to engage the public – not just every five years or through the mob that social media can currently represent, or even through petitions?
Why not use this season to accelerate, incubate, and innovate around concepts such as mass participatory budgeting, or betting with real or fake money on what policy ideas will work, or on mass legislative amendments clearly marked with explanations by those in the country and those who need to convey what they think the impact of law and legislation might have on their industry, geography, or lives?
Such lawtech or regulationtech could in turn be harnessed to enable other countries, places and movements to experiment with democracy in different forms, whether representative or direct, whether by seeking to explore whether ideas would be popular, or whether give those ideas a high probability of succeeding or not.
Data, where shared, on whose predictions and votes were actually accurate or prescient, indicating a high degree of judgement, could highlight which citizens might do well to become MPs or peers in future, rather than just relying on the current party selection processes which can be too much of a closed network at the best of times.
Where the private sector has established what are called prediction markets, where – say – employees at a firm bet on the quarterly sales figures of that company weekly or monthly, the market overall learns over time to get to within about two per cent accuracy.
Imagine how many billions could have been saved if there had been such a prediction market in place when Gordon Brown or another leader claims to be able to use tax credits to halve child poverty by 50 per cent by 2020?
Imagine if some of the funds saved could be used to establish low-cost smartphone and Internet-of-things-based ways of assessing if policy actually worked after it has been implemented – so we can all make smarter decisions in future, and learn in real time even where ideas haven’t worked.
Moving Parliament full stop physically could be a costly mistake.
Let’s go online, and have revolving pop-up events around the country if you must (Foster and Partners modular pop-up Parliament concept previously submitted might be modified to enable this) but accelerate the development of the technology so that we can get as close virtually to really being physically together as much as possible.
By using bottom-up innovation this wouldn’t need to cost more than £50 to £100 million to develop. It would certainly cost many, many billions less than moving everyone to York or somewhere else and back.