Former leader Paddy Ashdown wrote to the prime minister in 1998 urging him to rebuild parliament as a hemicycle
Former Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown wanted to the House of Commons chamber redesigned to make it less confrontational, it has emerged.
Mr Ashdown, who led his party between 1988 and 1999, wrote to Tony Blair asking him to rebuild parliament and lay it out as a hemicycle like the European Parliament, United States Senate, or Holyrood.
He said the alteration would represent a new political culture of “consultation, pluralism, and debate”.
In the early days of Tony Blair’s government the Liberal Democrats expected to cooperate with the incoming New Labour administration.
The efforts led to the establishment of a “joint consultative committee” in which members from Labour and the Liberal Democrats jointly discussed issued. The government also commissioned a report by Lib Dem Lord Jenkins into electoral reform.
But in a July 1998 letter to Tony Blair released by the National Archives the Liberal Democrat leader said as well as changing politics, he wanted to “alter the shape of parliament itself”.
“One of the most telling criticisms of the [cooperation] project will be that you are doing this to get even greater dominance and I am sacrificing my duty and role to oppose for ambition/greed etc and that this is yet another mechanism to diminish the role of Parliament and make it into even more of a cipher,” he said.
“One way of dealing with this is to openly recognise it and say that we are concerned about it too.
“That is why we intend to make it a specific aim of the project, to restore the importance of parliament and open a new culture of consultation, pluralism, debate and even disagreement.
“And as a symbol of this we might even say we shall alter the shape of Parliament itself, turning it into a hemisphere and setting up a design competition to do this before the Millennium.”
The Lib Dem-Labour joint committee produced little impact, and the Jenkins report – which recommended changing the voting system – was quietly filed away and never enacted.
The proposals on the interior design of parliament were also met with little enthusiasm in Downing Street.
Jonathan Powell, Mr Blair’s chief of staff, said in a memo: “I can’t believe that he has proposed a hemispherical House of Commons. Are you sure you want to go ahead with this project?”
Mr Ashdown passed away age 77 in December 2018.