David Cameron giving out 26 peerages to political cronies is an embarrassment, and makes the need for House of Lords reform even more crucial than it was before.
The appointments would be more palatable if they were all deserving of their ennoblement through their excellent record of political achievements. Fat chance of that though.
Instead it seems the only achievements necessary are a fat check book and the willingness to open it in the Tory cause. Take James Lupton, a millionaire banker, who has donated £2.8 million to the Tories since 2009. Being a talented politician clearly isn’t part of the benchmark either, as is proved by the inclusion of Andrew Lansley, whose bungled handling of the NHS led to him being removed as Health Secretary. It’s hard to imagine another sector where you could be rewarded for failure like this… except for banking of course.
If you can’t be talented, be ethical but – unsurprisingly – that doesn’t seem to be a criterion for being admitted to the House of Lords either. How else could the former Tory MP Douglas Hogg, who claimed tax-payer money for cleaning his moat, be given a peerage? Or for that matter, the former chief whip Sir George Young, who once described the homeless as “the people you step over when you are coming out of the opera”. Perhaps he’s been appointed to smooth the passing of the new welfare bill.
But it’s not even the cronyism that’s the worst thing about these new peerages. It’s the ramping up of what’s been described as the “political arms race” – stuffing the Lords full of “voting fodder” to help pass legislation. Cameron has created 236 new peers in five years, and only eight of them have been non-political. Labour has been just as guilty in the past, and it has led to the ridiculous situation where a House of Lords that everyone thinks should be shrinking instead swells every year and becomes increasingly politicised. It is now the second largest legislative assembly in the world after the National People’s Congress of China and, embarrassingly, peers report having to queue for two hours just to table a question.
What we need is the exact opposite of what the Government is doing. We need a smaller House of Lords that is also less politicised. We need a democratically elected body made up of non-political members with expertise. They should have experience over a wide range of disciplines. They should include scientists, business people, industrialists, economists and social reformers, to name just a few.
We also need to include ethical and spiritual members who represent, proportionately, the actual views and beliefs of the population, rather than just the Church of England. Needless to say, we also need more female peers and more peers from ethnic minorities, finally terminating the Lords as a club for old white men. There should be an age restriction and a cap on the total number of peers which could then be progressively brought down until we have a more sensible number – around a half of what it is now. We could start by removing the remaining 87 hereditary peerages, ending once and for all the travesty of privilege of birth as a right to legislative power.
Instead of exacerbating the problem by appointing more cronies, David Cameron should be tackling it head on by drawing up legislation for House of Lords reform. It’s time we had a second house that was democratic, representative, modern and efficient, rather than what we currently have – the political equivalent of the embarrassing, politically-incorrect old relative.
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