Letter: Elected by birth

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The Independent Culture
Sir: The election of some hereditary peers by their fellows introduces, for the first time, the concept of the hereditary voter. MPs are chosen by the voters, life peers by the Prime Minister, but now this radical government has opened up this Third Way to get into Parliament.

And when the victorious hereditaries take their seats they can claim a limited electoral legitimacy over life peers, and will be able to remind them that they have no such popular mandate and are merely the recipients of grubby patronage.

I suppose we should be grateful that proportional representation using closed lists of candidates hand-picked by the leader, as in the Euro-elections, has not been followed.

Meanwhile an avalanche of new life peers is expected from the Fount of Honour, which has been moved from Buckingham Palace to Downing Street, and the latest beneficiary is the Defence Secretary who, now safely established in the Lords, can no longer be held to account by MPs.

Soon Lord Wakeham's commission will be publishing its own recommendations on the second stage of reform, and these will then have to be scrutinised by both Houses with a view to further legislation, which no one believes will ever come.

Given that the Labour Party solemnly pledged to remove all hereditary peers and won a huge majority from the electors in 1997, why has this not been done? It took hundreds of years to make the Commons democratic and, at this rate, a wholly elected second chamber seems as remote as ever.

"New Labour" seems to distrust democracy and to be deeply committed to patronage, which concentrates all power at the top, and to do so in the name of modernisation.

TONY BENN MP

(Chesterfield, Lab)

House of Commons

London SW1

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