No list of new peers that has Gary Porter, James O’Shaughnessy and Philippa Stroud on it can be all that bad. Most of the names on it are completely unsurprising and just as completely justified: consider William Hague, who is now among the most senior members of the Party, or David Willetts, whose undiminished enthusiasm for ideas will contribute to the Upper House. It is in the nature of the beast for Prime Ministers to exercise patronage and, unless one favours replacing the Lords with an elected second chamber, it is scarcely reasonable to gripe when he does: indeed, one of the complaints in Conservative quarters during the past five years has been that David Cameron has used patronage too little, not too much. Furthermore, this is a dissolution and thus a Parliamentary list – which is why so many politicians, special advisers and staffers have been honoured
So far, so conventional. But while this way of thinking makes sense if one takes a narrow view, it misses the wider point. The Lords is too big – an argument we made last year in the ConservativeHome Manifesto. Its legitimacy is increasingly hard to defend in an age that stresses democratic accountability. The Party’s own manifesto recognises that a cull is needed. At this delicate moment for it, the Prime Minister effectively creates 30 new Conservative peers with no commensurate reduction – almost every single one of whom is either a politician, a donor, a SpAd, or a staffer. The Liberal Democrats, who believe that Lords membership should be more closely aligned with how the electorate votes, get a slew of new peerages, despite being all but wiped out at the polls less than four months ago. UKIP, who gained the support of over one in ten voters, get nothing at all.
It will be repeated that, since this is a dissolution list, it is bound disproportionately to honour those who work in the Westminster Village. Quite so. But political service is the reason given for the elevation of only about half of those whose names were announced today: the reason for the honouring of the other half is public service. Political and public service overlap, but they are not one and the same. There is little feel in these appointments for the broader Conservative family which also keeps the cause going. Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why should Michelle Mone go to the Lords, but not Roger Scruton? Why Kevin Shinkwin, and not Eamonn Butler? Why Stuart Polak and not Ruth Lea? The answer is that there is no good answer at all. This is blinkered and instrumentalist list – lacking vision, imagination and any sense that, outside a relatively small circle, a Conservative family exists at all.