It is known for its imposing gothic cathedral, medieval walls and quaint, cobbled streets. But – in theory, at least – York could soon take on a new role as a modern political hub.
Under a proposal hatched by Boris Johnson’s government to encourage less London-centric decision-making, the House of Lords could be shifted to the northern city when restoration work begins on the Palace of Westminster in 2025.
But while members of the House of Lords were deriding the idea as a PR stunt and suggesting they might just as well be housed on a cruise ship, residents of York were not much more enthusiastic about the prospect of the peers’ arrival.
Chris Nunns, 55, an education guardian for international students, said the move would not lead to any meaningful changes. “York itself isn’t disconnected – we have people from all over the country and the world visiting every day,” he said, arguing that it was politicians themselves who were out of touch.
“Instead of moving the House of Lords here, we should have more regular people with good ideas in politics, rather than the usual Oxbridge types.”
Others seemed sceptical that moving the place of work for 800 peers would force them to engage more with the public. Among those who told the Guardian they were unsure of the work the second chamber does, or what effect its departure from Westminster would have on their own lives, was Chloe Guy, a bar manager.
The 26-year-old said she wasn’t “massively into politics” but believed there should be more consideration for the views and needs of people living in the north. “But even if they do have to come to work up here, I’m not sure how many people will actually pay attention,” she said.
Some who were asked about the idea on Monday lunchtime in York’s bustling centre were more favourable. At Krusties sandwich shop, a stone’s throw from the crowded timber-framed stores on the Shambles, the Italian owner Camelia Andrei said it could only be a good thing for politicians to get out of the capital.
“Why not? They have to interact with people. To us they are virtual beings because we only ever see them through a screen,” she said. “I’m not English but I understand that there’s a divide in politics between people and parliament.”
Helping to dish out filled rolls and soup to customers, Tony Bradley, 67, similarly felt that the move would make politics less insular. “I think Boris Johnson genuinely wants to change that,” he said. “Geographically, it makes more sense for the House of Lords to be in York because it’s in the middle of the country.”
Lindsay Thomas, 37, a bookseller at Minster Gate bookshop, said she felt the move was an act of tokenism. “My reaction wasn’t a positive one. I understand it would be seen as a great idea, like they’re engaging with the north,” she said.
For Thomas, York’s considerable affluence, strong tourism economy and respected university made it the inoffensive but ineffectual choice for policymakers. “It’s not really representative of the north – it’s not Macclesfield, you know?”