We all have them. Jobs that need doing around the house that we keep putting off. Peeling paintwork, a leaky gutter – that sort of thing. We know it needs sorting out, but the cost of delaying the work for another summer doesn’t seem that high – until, that is, the rot sets in.
The political equivalent is House of Lords reform. About ten years ago, a dodgy outfit called New Labour did the place up. But, as is the way with cowboys, they never finished the job – despite repeated promises to do so.
More recently, Nick Clegg had a stab at it. Unfortunately his efforts resembled one of the episodes of Changing Rooms where the ‘big reveal’ goes down like a cup of cold sick. And so, the Upper House creaks on, with people making excuses as various bits fall off.
In a post for Political Betting, David Herdson surveys the crumbling fabric:
“If the Commons was once considered ‘The best Club in London’ then the Lords must these days be the best retirement home. The nature of the role is such that working peerages tend to be awarded to those whose first career has either ended entirely or is at least winding down – so allowing them the time to work in the Upper House, as well as having provided the evidence to justify the award. Add in that awards are for life and inevitably, they’re an aged bunch: a study two years ago revealed that more peers were over eighty years old than were under sixty.”
Ah, but what about experience – the collective wisdom of so many distinguished, if somewhat doddery, individuals?
Well, there are some Lords with long and interesting careers and enough energy remaining to make a contribution. But in many cases those careers are purely political ones (give or take the odd directorship). Someone who starts off in student politics, graduates to a backroom job in Westminster and goes on to become an MP and then a minister, can round things off with a retirement on the red benches without ever having worked in the real world:
“One group that does particularly well for peerages is ex-MPs. Former cabinet ministers are almost guaranteed a peerage, for example. That’s understandable – they know the Westminster system and are reliable nominations as working peers without allegations of deals or shady rewards – though it might not do too much for diversity or introducing new thinking.”
Then there’s the small matter of a popular mandate – or rather the lack of one, which enables the establishment parties to maintain their grip on power:
“…the Tories, Lib Dems and Labour parties enjoy the support of 95% of peers aligned to a party (and most of the rest were nominated by one of the same three parties before the peer resigned their whip, defected or were booted out of their party)…
“If peers for minor parties had been created in line with the 2010 vote shares, there’d now be about 18 UKIP peers rather than three (all of which were defections)…”
This is blatantly unjust – and serves to strengthen Nigel Farage’s claim to be the anti-establishment champion of the people.
Furthermore, things could soon start looking a lot worse:
“…[an] intriguing question arises looking forward past 2015… if UKIP were to poll at anything like current levels, it would be far harder to justify their continued exclusion from the Lords – even more so if they outpoll the Lib Dems into third. For example, were they to realise their current 12%, that would imply an entitlement to around seventy peers: a block that would have a transformative effect on the upper House.
“The flip side is that the Lib Dems would be significantly over-represented if they can’t improve on the 10% they’ve been stuck on for over three years. That equates to around sixty members of the Lords, rather than the hundred or so they have now.”
One of the big arguments against the Clegg reforms is that they would have turned the Lords into a sanctuary for Lib Dems (and others) rejected by the electorate. True enough – but to a large extent that is how the place already works.