In defence of our noble and diligent Upper House

The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold
Click to follow
The Independent Online
HERE, as the vulgar popular song has it, We Go Again. On the very day the House of Lords resumed its onerous duties, the Daily Telegraph chose to exhibit the protuberant chip on its left shoulder. The Telegraph was always on the pinkish side but is now redder than ever under Mr Max Hastings, and is shortly to affiliate no doubt with Socialist Worker.

But this is no excuse for the onslaught it led upon their Noble Lordships under the snide heading "Full House puts Lords £6m in pocket", with a sub-heading in only slightly smaller letters declaring "With expenses of up to £134.50 a day, more and more of the noble members of the Upper Chamber are finding it pays to attend".

Karl Marx thou shouldst be living at this hour! The Telegraph accompanied this vicious sniping with a Trial-by-Press of a number of excellent Peers - many of them old friends and quaffing partners of Arnold, W - printing photographs, or "head-shots" (dread phrase!), of their stately visages as if they were little less than common criminals. Though they had claimed attendance fees throughout the last session, the Telegraph huffed, not one of them had spoken in the Chamber. Far from commending them for such aristocratic reticence and humility the Telegraph, in typically "chippier- than-thou" vein, roundly savaged them.

As always it is left to Arnold to ride to the aid of the Upper House. Though I have not yet received official notice of my Peerage, I have been tipped the wink that another three donations should do the trick. Lord Wyatt of Weevil has already agreed to act as my sponsor, ably supported by Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare with Major Ronald Ferguson and Sir Peregrine Worsthorne as page-boys, the four of them lending the proceedings that necessary air of dignity.

Do you know Jeremy Hanley? Terrific fun and performing a marvellous job under very difficulty conditions, the job being, of course, to look an even greater chump than his leader (I jest!!). To be frank, his well-pressed suits and cheery matine idol looks - let us agree that the late Terry Scott was a matine idol - belie one of the sharpest political brains in the business. It was while chatting with Jeremy over a glass of lightly chilled Sancrre on the roof of Central Office on Wednesday that I agreed to write the previous sentence and he was also good enough to suggest that it would "certainly not be looked upon unkindly" if I were to spring to the defence of the House of Lords in general and the heredity principle in particular. Might I address the issue upon three distinct fronts?

Symbol of Continuity. The heredity system provides continuity in an age of change, the same noble families freshly inspiring generation upon generation of ordinary decent folk to feelings of patriotism, hard work and endeavour. Why else would the Marquess of Blandford, the Marquess of Bristol, Lady Birdwood, Lady Mosley and my old friend Lord Lucan be such familiar names on everybody's lips?

The Marquess of Blandford was voicing much the same opinion when last we met. "The public yearns for the continuity only we can provide," he said, rolling a £10 note in order, no doubt, to pop it into the nearest charity collection. He then took a sideways glance and added in those rich aristocratic tones of his: "Christ - run - it's the cops." No doubt this is upper-class rhyming slang for something all true aristocrats are famously keen on - private jokes!!!

Standard bearers for Pageantry Ritual and Ceremony. No one loves a bit of ritual more than the British. As my old quaffing partner Lord Bollinger was telling me, the House of Lords, is the home of the most ordered ritual in the land: arrive for luncheon, clock in at 2.30, have half-hour sleep during Questions, use office facilities, tea and biccies, bit of a zizz, drinkies, claim expenses and back to the estate, First Class Awayday, £134 a day all found. And we all know that the ordinary decent "bloke" in the street simply wouldn't have it any other way.

Focus for civilised behaviour. Everyone in the Upper Chamber is highly civilised. "I would like to say that I agree with every word that the Noble Lord has just uttered." "May I thank the Noble Lord most cordially for agreeing with every word that I have uttered." "And may I in turn thank the Noble Lord for taking the trouble to thank me for my thanks." Ah such grace, such dignity, such history!

Comments