Chris Bryant: Lord this, Lady that...class-obsessed job titles that belong in the Middle Ages

A Political Life


A parliamentary quiz for you.

What do Norton-sub-Hamdon, Eaton-under-Heywood and Hinton Blewett have in common? No, they are not Midsomer Murders villages. It's something they share with Chiswick, Brentwood, Upholland, Abersoch and Thornton-le-Fylde, and a whole range of towns, villages and cities, for in each case they have been adopted in the new title of a life peer. Needless to say, nobody has ever bothered the good burghers of said hamlets to ask if they mind. In some cases there might be a rather charming sense of pride. After all, the Rhondda's very own (and very only) peer, Anita Gale, right, is Baroness of Blaenrhondda, a three-street village nestled into the mountains at the top end of the Rhondda Fawr, where Anita was brought up. And the former MPs who have selected the name of their old seat or a town in it have a decent enough claim.

But I wonder quite what the people of Henley-upon-Thames make of the fact that the Lib Dem peer Jonathan Marks, who stood twice for the Commons in the 1980s for Weston-super-Mare and Falmouth and Cambourne (for the SDP), has declared ownership of their town, even though not a single Lib Dem is elected at any level to represent it. The same could be said of the Tory peer Pauline Perry, who has seized Southwark (really, a Tory baroness of Southwark?) even though she is "of Charlbury in the county of Oxfordshire".

This hangover from the old days of baronial tenants-in-chief meeting the monarch, each in actual possession of vast tracts of land, is just one element of our ludicrous class-obsessed political system. But when we reform the Lords (I'm sticking with "when" rather than "if"), let's please stop creating peers in any shape or form, put an end to the ludicrous invention of nonsensical titles and ditch the language of lord and lady this and that. I know this might upset the four Kings of Arms that govern the granting of new coats of arms, but foreign visitors to our Parliament must look at our 26 parliamentary earls, 19 viscounts, three marquesses and two dukes (there are others who didn't survive Labour's cull of hereditary peers) plus the growing multitude of life peers and think we are still living in the Middle Ages. Quaint maybe, but thoroughly out of tune with any other part of modern life.

Baronets must be the first to go

Incidentally, could we also not get rid of that bastard part of the squirearchy, the baronets? These hereditary knights were invented by Edward III but became commonplace when James VI & I sold 200 baronetcies for £1,095 each in 1611 when he needed cash and the Commons had refused it. We still have a couple of them in the Commons, Sir George Samuel Knatchbull Young, the 6th baronet of Formosa Place, and Sir Robert Smith, 3rd baronet, the Lib Dem MP who represents the same seat as his grandfather, the first baronet, Sir Robert Workman Smith.

Since we now seem to be acquiring four new parliamentary knights or dames every year, it seems a shame that these unearned knighthoods should clutter up the place, especially when a baronetcy cannot be inherited by a woman. I suspect I may have one ally in this campaign, George Osborne, whose reputation as arrogant, out of touch and über-posh hardly needs the additional handicap of the family baronetcy that will one day be his when he becomes Sir George Gideon Oliver Osborne, 18th Baronet of Ballintaylor and Ballylemon.

Nostalgia on the curriculum

The Tories are a bit in love with Michael Gove. Every week he comes up with some wolf-whistle education policy or other that engenders that favourite Conservative emotion, nostalgia. Learning poems, preferably Kipling's "If" or Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard", by the age of three; fluent Greek (classical rather than modern) by the age of six; lots of competitive sport dressed in long shorts and plimsolls (only white allowed); weekly recitation of the Magna Carta; religious instruction instead of sex and relationship education. It's all daft window dressing, of course. Dragging children and teachers back to a classroom that time forgot is not going to improve standards. And constant tinkering with the exam system merely leaves today's students demotivated and tomorrow's employers completely uncertain as to what a particular qualification means. But Gove has the personal air of a man who wants to make his mark. Cameron and Osborne's slender charms are waning and Gove reckons he's in with a chance. So, parents, beware the clever Education Secretary on manoeuvres.

A bird in the hand

Peter Kellner of YouGov was the speaker at the National Policy Forum meeting in Birmingham last Saturday and told us of Norman Atkinson, erstwhile MP for Tottenham, who used to say he had no time for pollsters as he could find out what the public mood was from his local Labour Party general management committee. The one thing he didn't see coming, though, was his deselection, courtesy of that very same GMC in 1987.

At the Parliamentary Labour Party affair in honour of our popular chairman, Tony Lloyd told a similar tale of Peter Hardy, formerly MP for Wentworth, who declared himself singularly unimpressed by François Mitterand's campaigning, arguing that the eve-of-poll rallies in Wentworth really were something to behold. Hardy was also a passionate campaigner for wildlife preservation, and in a late night debate on the Felixstowe Docks Bill in 1987 he did an apparently impressive impersonation of the widgeon, a bird threatened by the proposed development. Hansard, always keen to render such innovations in parliamentary language, records it as, "whee hoo". Ornithologists will doubtless let me know whether this is right.


React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Systems Administrator (SharePoint) - Central London - £36,500

£35000 - £36500 per annum: Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator (SharePoint) -...

Biology Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are currently recruiting...

.NET Developer / Web Developer / Software Developer - £37,000

£30000 - £37000 per annum + attractive benefits: Ashdown Group: .NET Developer...

Biology Teacher

Main Pay Scale : Randstad Education Leeds: Biology Teacher to A Level - Female...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Girls were by far the most worried about their appearance, the survey found  

English children are among the unhappiest in the world – we are failing them

Natasha Devon

Daily catch-up: eurogloom, Ed in Red and Cameron’s Wilsonian U-turn on control orders

John Rentoul
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering