Leading article: Cash and honours are as close as ever

Saturday 20 November 2010 01:00 GMT

The list of 53 new peers of the realm released yesterday sends a depressing message: it is not necessary to have made a large donation to a political party to become a member of the House of Lords, but it certainly does no harm.

Stanley Fink, Andrew Feldman and Bob Edmiston have been put forward by the Conservative Party. Between them, these individuals have donated £4.7m to the Tories. It is not merely the Conservatives who elevated their donors to the upper house. Sir Gulam Noon is made a peer for Labour, having given the party £737,000 over the past decade. And Paul Strasburger is named a Liberal Democrat peer, having donated £765,000 to that party's coffers over the past five years.

So much for the "new politics". It appears little has been learnt by our political parties since the 2007 cash-for-honours affair. Two of the new peers, Sir Gulam and Mr Edmiston, were even questioned by the police in that tawdry business three years ago. And the Tories appear to have forgotten their recent torments over the tax affairs of their former paymaster, Lord Ashcroft. The Liberal Democrats have failed to learn lessons too. Mr Strasburger helped to fund the legal defence of the Liberal Democrats' disgraced donor, the convicted fraudster Michael Brown.

All three parties will doubtless argue that these new wealthy peers merit their place in the upper house because of their public works, and that their donations have nothing to do with their elevation. But it looks appalling. While big donors are selected by parties for peerages, there will always be suspicions that seats in our legislature are for sale.

That is a suspicion that sits very uneasily with Britain's claims to be a democracy. What this list underlines is the pressing need for reform of the House of Lords and an overhaul of the manner in which we pay for our politics. The link between political power and big money needs to be severed for good.

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