The government is considering moving the House of Lords outside London – potentially to York – as one of a range of options to “reconnect” politics with the public, the Conservative party chairman, James Cleverly, has confirmed.
Asked about the plan, which was reported in the Sunday Times, Cleverly said: “It’s one of a range of things that we are looking into.
“It’s about demonstrating to people that we are going to do things differently. The Labour party lost millions of voters because they failed to listen.”
The crumbling Palace of Westminster is due to be vacated for several years from 2025, under plans for restoring the historic buildings by the Thames.
Shifting the Lords to northern England during that period, and potentially permanently, would be a symbol of Boris Johnson’s determination to “level up” the rest of the UK with the capital. The decision is expected to be made as part of a constitutional review, to be launched in the coming weeks.
The Conservatives have already said they will open an additional campaign headquarters outside London.
Cleverly told Sophy Ridge on Sky News: “When the prime minister stood up the day after the general election and said this is going to be a people’s government, he meant it. And that meant connecting people with government and politics.
“Because the referendum in 2016 wasn’t just about our relationship with the EU, it was about millions of people and their relationship with politics as a whole. So we’re looking at a whole range of ways of connecting people, in the kind of places where we won representation for the first time in decades.”
The potential move to York move was welcomed by many of the city’s political leaders. Rachael Maskell, the Labour MP for York Central, described the idea as “incredible” and said she would write to Johnson to back the move.
She added: “We would get infrastructure improvements, particularly for transport. It would create hundreds, thousands of jobs, good quality jobs.”
Keith Aspden, the Liberal Democrat leader of City of York council, also cautiously welcomed the proposal. He said: “It is about time that the government lived up to its promises to York and the north, particularly with transport and infrastructure investment.”
He said the proposed site, next to York rail station, was among the best in the north of England and would attract “high-quality occupiers”.
“We welcome any conversations and genuine attempts to decentralise the country,” Aspden added.
However, there was a more mixed reception among members of the public. One person said it could take York back to “the prestige it had in the Viking period”, while another said: “Please spare us. Additional demands on the health services and hundreds more blue badge holders cruising round the city centre and abandoning their vehicles wherever they feel like it.”
Commenting on a story in the local newspaper about the plans, one man said: “Send the sleeping chamber to the sleepy city.”
Cleverly was also asked about the controversy over whether Big Ben would “bong” to mark Brexit – at 11pm (midnight, Brussels time) on 31 January – but sought to play it down.
After House of Commons authorities said it would cost £500,000 to sound the bell, which has been silenced during renovations to the Elizabeth Tower in which it hangs, Johnson said his government was “working up a plan so people can bung a bob for a Big Ben bong”.
It subsequently emerged there was no such plan – and it is unclear what will happen to the money raised by crowdfunders for the project. Instead, the government will project a countdown clock on to the wall of 10 Downing Street on the evening of 31 January.
Cleverly said: “The PM made a light-hearted statement about Big Ben. Trust me, this is not the most pressing issue in government. There’s a lot of interest, and it’s fun, and it’s good media knockabout.”