The Sketch: Simon Carr

I admit I'm in love with the Lord Chancellor. But is he in denial?
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The Independent Online

I think I've fallen in love. I can't tell you with whom. It's too personal, it's too tender. All right, it's the Lord Chancellor. He was giving evidence to a committee. Everyone was there. A week or so ago he'd appeared in front of the Parliamentary Labour Party to sell his proposals for House of Lords reform. He made a pig's ear of it. I like pigs, especially their ears, it's no reason to criticise the Lord Chancellor.

But first, Lord Stevenson. He's the head of the committee that appoints people's peers. If you want a House of Lords appointed by an independent commission it'll be Lord Stevenson, or his like, who appoints them.

Gordon Prentice asked if he had been surprised by Sir Herman Ousley getting a peerage. "Well, no, it was on my recommendation," Lord Stevenson said. "It was open, meritocratic, and the priorities were observed every step of the way." Mr Prentice pointed out that it was Sir Herman who had made Mr Stevenson Lord Stevenson the previous year. The spluttering in the room was disgraceful.

Do these people's peers do a good job? Oh yes. Work hard? Oh indeed. How about Lord Brown, the chairman of BP? He hasn't made a single speech. "You're being unfair."

The Lord Chancellor had opened his remarks by observing that there was no consensus yet, and that MPs who opposed his proposals were "in denial". A Labour member pointed out that a large majority of all three main parties were in favour of most new peers being elected.

"I don't believe it," the Lord Chancellor said. Glorious stuff.

Graham Allen, a former government whip, carried out a survey showing that a massive majority of Labour MPs wanted three-quarters of peers to be elected. But the Lord Chancellor went on, to more laughter: "No, I'm not in denial." He hasn't been a politician long but he's picking it up.

"If a secret ballot showed a majority in favour of mostly elected peers, would you accept that?" "Oh, I don't think I'd be that keen on a secret ballot," he responded quickly. "A vote where you could see who was voting for what would be more instructive." Ha ha! Then, reaffirming his democratic credentials: "Party patronage upsets me." It takes something to say that. There was some vulgar laughter. Not least from myself. Then Mr Prentice directed his thin, Leveller's stare at him and said: "You are a creature of patronage yourself, are you not?" In a voice of mild indignation laced with genuine interest, the Lord Chancellor asked: "In what way?" Magnificent. Almost as good as "Robin who?" (Mr Cook had been in earlier).

Mark Fisher and his group Parliament First has recast the debate. That's not as easy as it sounds. The great argument against legitimising the House of Lords (by electing them) has been that such a chamber would challenge the supremacy of the Commons. Mr Fisher says such a chamber would challenge the supremacy of the government. And that is in the vital interests of both houses of parliament.

Finally: the Lord Chancellor insists on protecting the life peers. They were, after all, appointed on the promise of a lifetime of security. The Sketch suggests an object lesson in politics for the peers and, indeed, the country: never rely on politicians who promise to provide for your retirement.

Simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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