openDemocracyUK

What's that smell?

A new list of unelected Lords has been announced for the UK Parliament. The process says a lot about British democracy. It stinks!
Guy Aitchison
28 May 2010

The Dissolution Honours List has been published and the stench of hypocrisy and corruption is almost too much to bear. Just when you thought you'd seen the last of them, zombie-like the disreputable cronies and party hacks return to take their seats at the establishment table.  So we are to be inflicted with Lords John Prescott, John Reid, Michael Howard and Ian Paisley, as well as plenty of SPADs, like Susan Nye, and the grim former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Ian Blair.   

The hypocrisy is most blatant in the case of Prescott who in 2004 labelled the herediatries in the Lords an "offence against democracy" and in 2008 denied that he would be following in the footsteps of former Labour grandees Roy Hattersley and Neil Kinnock, denouncing "flunkery and titles" and saying “I don’t want to be a member of the House of Lords. I will not accept it.” 

When Power2010 visited Hull East in an attempt to stop Prescott accepting a peerage as part of our "No More Lords" campaign we found that local people were very much on board: they didn't want their local MP taking the unelected route back into Parliament (you can read the write up in the Hull Daily Mail). So is it any wonder the political class is held in such contempt when they behave like this, denouncing unelected Lords one minute and crawling back into Parliament via the back door the next? Prescott kept quiet and avoided us during the campaign: obviously a cushy retirement, expenses, and having a wife called "Lady P", was too much to resist. 

When we ran the campaign against Michael Howard he told us he supported an elected Lords but given it's currently unelected he didn't see why he shouldn't accept. Of course, even the most zealous reformers can find ways to justify it to themselves. "I'm going into the Lords in order to reform it", they will say. No doubt this is the reasoning many Lib Dems who've been handed peerages, like Ken MacDonald, will use.

But whichever way you look at it the system of appointments and cronyism stinks. Either you believe legislators should be elected, or you don't. And if you accept a peerage, then you don't. There is no "reforming the Lords from within". Once inside, these new Lords will expect to live out their retirements in the Chamber milking a generous system of perks and expenses. Far from being the drivers of reform they can be counted upon to be the staunchest road blocks.

I find the whole process deeply unedifying and hypocritical, especially in the case of the Lib Dems who I hope will now agree to no more appointments from their party to the Lords. If they want to prove they're serious about reforming our democracy they should boycott the practice from here on in. If not their claims to represent a "New Politics" will look very hollow indeed.

Update: I have been quoted in John Prescott's local paper, the Hull Daily Mail, on the damage this does to people's trust in politics and the political class. There's also a quote in there from fellow Hull MP, Alan Johnson, who says:

"John won't like dressing up in ermine and he won't like the pomp and circumstance, but it's absolutely wrong for people to criticise him. He's going to the House of Lords in pursuit of his political objective, which has always been to bring about a predominately elected House of Lords, and you need Labour people in there to do that."

Ha! So there you have it. It's his selfless dedication to democracy that leads Prescott to don the ermine. And the best way to get an elected Lords is to fill it with unelected Labour hacks. Perhaps I've missed something and this is actually part of an ingenious wider strategy by Labour grandees of democratising power by hoarding it for themselves. It would explain a lot.

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