Leading Article: Ermine, pray, for Bragg, Bragg and Follett

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The Independent Online
THE LATEST Labour Party nominees to the House of Lords, officially announced tomorrow, are a worthy enough trio. But the appointments of a former MP, a county councillor and a trade unionist are a touch unimaginative. The list, drawn up while Margaret Beckett was acting leader, highlights a lack of diversity in the party's ranks that Tony Blair will need to address. Why are there no business people or representatives of the arts among the favoured group? Where are the recruits equipped to give first-hand accounts of life closer to Britain's grass-roots to a chamber of predominantly elderly, wealthy men?

True, Alf Dubs brings his experience in the Commons and recent distinguished service as director of the Refugee Council. Josie Farrington, chairwoman of the Association of County Councils, has expertise in local government. Derek Gladwin, a career trade union official, has proved himself as a backroom Labour Party fixer. Yet none of them will refresh the party's narrow political class. It is no excuse for Labour that the Government has shown so much partisanship and so little imagination in stuffing quangos with its supporters; indeed one of Labour's strongest claims to power is that the entire system of public patronage needs sluicing.

Neil Kinnock trawled academia and elevated Baroness Blackstone, master of Birkbeck College. But why not be more radical: ennoble the singer Billy Bragg - the 'big- nosed bard from Barking' - or his adenoidal namesake, Melvyn? The thriller-writer Ken Follett - Labour's answer to Lord Archer - would surely wake up ermine-clad slumberers.

The world of business offers excellent candidates. Christopher Haskins, chairman of Northern Foods, is a party loyalist and author of a stimulating radio series on economic and social issues. Steve Shirley, whose computer services company pioneered flexible work at home for women, is a good option.

To give peers first-hand knowledge of poverty, Labour could nominate Bob Holman, former professor of social administration at Bath University. Now a neighbourhood worker in Easterhouse, near Glasgow, one of Britain's poorest council estates, he runs food co-operatives and credit unions. Who better to debate the Lords' daily attendance allowance?