Lords and cronies

 

Britain’s non-elected second chamber, the House of Lords - the world’s second largest after China’s National People’s Congress - has got even bigger. The decision by leaders of the UK’s three main political parties, Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat, to nominate a further thirty peers to the upper house has further swollen their overcrowded ranks - 785 members, with a further forty-four on leave of absence. These new appointments have revived a simmering controversy about cash for peerages, which has left the British public with more reasons for cynicism about politics. All the parties reject allegations that the appointments made were linked to donations received from some of the new peers. Equally, all solemnly insist the peers were selected on their merits, and will make a valuable contribution to British politics. Few people, however, believe that. Among the new peers are donors, lobbyists and political advisers. These include the Conservative party treasurer, Howard Lee. Mr Lee also chairs a dining club where, for £50,000 a year, people have access to David Cameron. Almost a century ago David Lloyd George, as British prime minister, used the sale of peerages to boost party finances in order to contest general elections. Changes in the law later curbed such flagrant abuses. Nevertheless the practise of cash for peerages has continued, albeit on a more modest scale, but in a manner that debases democracy.

All parties have long promised to reform the House of Lords, and all favour a more directly elected second chamber. But they cannot agree on how to do it. An unreformed House of Lords allows the political parties to exercise their powers of patronage over appointments to the second chamber. And that in turn prompts allegations of cash for peerages when wealthy donors are ennobled. The public are unhappy with the practice, which the parties have come to rely on to boost their finances. But the public also seem equally reluctant to support greater state funding of the parties, as the price of a reformed House of Lords.

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