There are only 47 people eligible to vote, campaigning takes place in secret and all the candidates are Conservatives. One election David Cameron won't be campaigning for is the contest to choose the "newest" hereditary member of the House of Lords.
Despite attempts by the Liberal Democrats to reform the upper chamber, 92 hereditary peers remain on the red benches, a compromise deal agreed a decade ago when many earls, marquesses and dukes were booted back to their stately homes and castles. And every time one of the 92 dies, the House operates a "one-out, one-in" process where those hereditaries kicked out in 2000 can apply to get back in.
This week, candidates for the latest hereditary peers' by-election will throw their hats into the ring, following the death last month of Earl Ferrers, below, the colourful former Tory minister. By-elections in the House of Lords are conducted in secret, with a private hustings held on an undisclosed date. Rather than a polling station, the "voters" – in this case the 47 existing hereditary Tory peers – will cast their ballots in the Lords on 13 February. The contest is fought using the alternative vote system – the reform Nick Clegg failed to achieve for the Commons.
There are currently 183 hereditaries who would be eligible to stand in the election. Yet, given that Lord Ferrers's "seat" was Conservative, only Tory peers are expected to stand. Said a Tory source: "Lord Ferrers left some big boots to fill. We expect this to be a hotly contested election."
There are no public manifestos, and no eligible peer would publicly declare their intention to run ahead of the opening of nominations this week. Here we predict the leading runners, with exclusive odds by William Hill.
The 5th Baron Borwick
Odds 6-4 fav
He is married to (Lady) Victoria Borwick, who happens to be Boris Johnson's deputy mayor of London – which could make him popular among some peers, although not with those close to the Prime Minister. Yet Lord Borwick came second in the previous Lords by-election in July 2011, making him favourite this time. He has sound green credentials – he founded an electric vehicle company called Modec, and is deputy chairman of the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership. He is also a former chief executive of Manganese Bronze Holdings, the London black cab manufacturer.
The 2nd Earl of Stockton
The grandson of Harold Macmillan, former MEP and Daily Telegraph foreign correspondent. A larger-than-life character, making him the bookies' second favourite. Lord Stockton's son, Viscount Macmillan of Ovenden, is better known as Dan Macmillan, the former party friend of Kate Moss and Jade Jagger. Lord Stockton will enter the contest, but he is also "very happy" as a Tory councillor.
The 4th Baron De Ramsey
Lord De Ramsey was the first chairman of the Environment Agency, between 1995 and 2000 and a former president of the Country Land and Business Association. A farmer and landowner of 11,000 acres in Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire, he has one of England's largest private estates. His son, Freddie Fellowes, runs the Secret Garden Party festival, described as "Disneyland for adults". The creator of Downton Abbey, Julian Fellowes, who has a seat in the House of Lords, is a distant relative.
The 8th Earl of Harrowby
Lord Harrowby is a chartered surveyor who has also done pro bono work in the higher education sector, including with Goldsmiths College. He lists his interests as fine art and architecture and lives at Burnt Norton in Gloucestershire, a stately home whose gardens inspired T S Eliot to write the first of his 'Four Quartets'. His second wife, Caroline, is a former model and interior designer who will publish her first novel, Burnt Norton, based on the case of an 18th-century lord of the manor who had an affair with his wife's maid and attempted to murder the butler.
The 6th Marquess of Abergavenny
Christopher George Charles Nevill became the 6th Marquess of Abergavenny when his uncle, who had no surviving male heir, died in 2000. At the same time, he succeeded as 10th Earl of Abergavenny and 6th Earl of Lewes. In turn, he has no surviving male heir, only a daughter, Sophie Nevill, a musician who goes by the stage name of Sophie Trilby. Before fleeing to the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, Julian Assange was holed up in a cottage on the marquess's estate in Kent. The Nevill family name dates back to the 13th century.
The 3rd Earl of Oxford and Asquith
Raymond Asquith is the grandson of the Liberal Prime Minister Herbert Asquith. The family seat is Mells in Somerset, one of the most beautiful houses in England, which has its own tiny Catholic chapel in the grounds. Siegfried Sassoon, the First World War poet, is buried in the churchyard there. His younger brother is Sir Dominic Asquith, Britain's ambassador to Libya, who narrowly avoided being killed in a convoy in Bengazi in June. He has three younger sisters: one, Lady Annunziata, was the long-term partner of the late royal photographer Lord Lichfield. The actresses Anna Chancellor and Helena Bonham Carter are his cousins.
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