No, no, no Suzanne!

Suzanne Moore's recent conversion to the House of Lords mistakes the public spiritedness of a few inhabitants for the hands-in-the-public-purse interests of the many

Anthony Barnett
Anthony Barnett
7 March 2012

No, no, no Suzanne!

I've just read your account of your visit to the Lords published on Saturday. You capture something of the spirit of the place, if that is the right word for its odours. Stuart Weir once said that going there for tea is like crossing the Styx. You look up and an emaciated shadow from the past wafts by - a Healey or a Giddens - that you had mentally ticked off as having really left us for the other place!

However, many of the less well-known inhabitants do more than cling on, they vigorously pursue their interests.   This is where you get it wrong. You met with some of the more enlightened ones trying to help save the NHS. And write,

My head has always said abolish it all tomorrow, but by the end of the day, my heart was saying we must find a way to preserve what I had not expected to see here, in this anachronistic, rule-bound house of privilege: a passionate ethos of public service, some impressive people who think long-term, not just in electoral cycles, and a coalition in political flux.

But, Suzanne, you should not judge a chamber by its minorities.... and even amongst those who did a PR job on you there are totally loyal party hacks like Melvyn Bragg. He can turn out an exceptional radio show that actually engages with ideas – for which much is forgiven – but when it comes to politics in the upper chamber he votes as he is told, for abolishing juries or implementing ID cards, when this was the New Labour line. (It would be interesting to know if he ever rebelled on any issue of principle.)

Much more important, the Lords is filled with people who you did not meet. Take a glance at this analysis by Social Investigations listing the Peers with their hands in our pockets when it comes to health 'provision'. The second chamber is packed by patronage. Most of the ex-politicians have dubious independence. There are far, far fewer spines on the red benches than the headlines suggest.

In fact, because it is a part-time £300-a-day for expenses chamber, most have other interests. It was created to gather together the landed interests, and even if most hereditary peers have gone, the principle remains. Their Lordships, it can be said, are just waiting to profit from the marketisation of the health service. Had the chamber as a whole been as motivated by the “ethos of public interest” you witnessed in the few, Suzanne, the current legislation would not stand a chance of being passed.

I think that simply electing it on a party basis, even if it is proportional, with full-time politicians has serious drawbacks. I have long argued for selection by lot on the 'Athenian Model' to make up at least part of its composition with representative selections of regular people. But Laura Sandys recent denunciation of its corrupt composition - and the urgent need to replace it is absolutely justified.

Down with them! And please think again, Suzanne!

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