Lord Sugar's debut in the Lords can't be called a maiden speech. It was more demi-mondaine, with a touch of street-walker, a bit of pole dancing and one of those tricks that Thai strippers do with a ping-pong ball.
It was so bad as to have been better than any of us could have hoped. Reformers must be delighted. It's hard to see how the Lords will continue in its present form with additions to the peerage like this.
For the context we have to go back to 2007 and the new Prime Minister addressing the country from Downing Street. Everything was to be different, we heard. There was to be a moral compass guiding the Government. Large constitutional reform. No more preoccupation with trivial celebrities. "Everything I'm promising here today is complete bollocks!" he (not exactly) said. Then he combined all his themes – especially the last – by taking Alan Sugar off the telly and sticking him in the House of Lords.
From what we've seen no one could be less suited to his position than Sugar. He's a businessman. This is politics. The difference can be seen in Mandelson's reaction to the speech. His face had turned into a dark mask that would have frightened poor Alan, had he seen it. But afterwards the First Lord turned round to say something – and it wasn't "Alan that was the most awful ****ing load of old **** any of us have ever heard". Politics, you see, that's how it works. Lord Wakeham said the speech was "well received in the House". That's the sort of thing politicians say.
At first all was well. The Lords likes a self-deprecating joke. And humble origins are always admired. But then Alan said something we weren't sure we'd heard correctly: "Never, ever underestimate me." Do what was that again? No, surely not. In politics you never underestimate the good sense of the British people. You never underestimate the courage and professionalism of the emergency services. But you never, ever say that about yourself.
And here he was suddenly saying how many rubbish small businesses he'd seen who didn't deserve credit because they ought to be put out of their misery.
Mandelson's rictus might have been chiselled into his face by Benvenuto Cellini. He hadn't been enjoying this since Lord Hunt had teasingly stated that Lord Sugar "speaks with the authority of Cabinet". Lord Mandelson clearly felt that Sugar speaks with the authority of a highly-edited, total-format TV robot with a catchphrase.
All these feelings were swirling around in the House while Sugar was getting into his stride. He was suddenly telling us that he now owned some building he'd been working in as a boy, or at least I think that was it. And by the end of his first week he was earning more than the person who'd hired him...? Was that it? It was hard to keep focused because the horror of the House was palpable. Could it get worse? Oh, yes. He was then saying what an honest man he was. And more than once. "I will always be honest!" he declared. "It is these qualities of honesty and straightforwardness that have served me so well."
They didn't know where to put their heads. (I'm sure Sugar would have had suggestions).
When Lord Oakshott stood up, Sugar left the chamber. Then we got a wonderfully catty speech – also unprecedented. A peer welcoming a maiden speech with the news that he'd been legally threatened by the maiden, continuing that Sugar was fabulously rich – their "most propertied lord" worth £730m – and concluding with the mordant observation: "How well property magnates have done out of 12 years of Brown and Blair."
It was a privilege to have been there.Reuse content