Cameron’s decision to toss another 45 peers, mostly party hacks, into the Lords is really shameful. The motivation is to remove any obstacles to the swift and easy transmission of government business. Since the whole purpose of Parliament is to hold the Executive (the government) to account, it is truly scandalous that the leader of the Executive has untrammeled tights to appoint whatever number of new peerages will defeat this purpose. This is a serious source of corruption at the very heart of government. I certainly strengthens the case for an independent Parliamentary Ombudsman who could make a formal statement, as presidents do in other European countries, condemning what he/she believes is a constitutional abuse designed to sidestep the proper working of Parliament, as well as giving MPs and indeed members of the public the opportunity to make a formal protest.
There are several other aspects too to this sordid affair. Of the 45 new peers, 32 are former politicians and 7 used to work in the party machines, making a total of 85%. Moreover, of the 189 peers created between the two elections of 2010 and 2015, no less than 68 had been elected politicians and 26 had been political staff – that is fully half of the new intake. The Lords is increasingly becoming a repository for Westminster bubble insiders, including those most recently rejected by electors at the polls just 3 months ago.
It’s also becoming a repository for donors to the Tory party. Of course it has been accepted ever since the time of Lloyd George, the arch peerage salesman, that the selling of honours was illegal. But is there much difference between an outright sale and making a large contribution to Tory party funds and then waiting for the Tory party hierarchy to reward such generosity? It doesn’t always happen of course, but an academic stidy has shown that giving large sums of money does have a remarkably positive effect on the donor’s talents being recognised.
Then there the numbers. There are now 828 members of the Lords and if MPs are added there is grand total of Westminster legislators of 1,476. Cameron said before the election that he would cut both the number and cost of parliamentarians. What he has done in practice is the exact opposite – he has appointed new peers at a faster rate than any PM since life peerages began in 1958, even more than Blair.
Packing the Lords with cronies is a shameless way for the PM to extend his patronage and secure compliance as well as smoothing the way for an uninterrupted legislative programme. Having lost votes in the Lords over devolution, the EU referendum and EVEL (English votes for English laws), Cameron is determined to stop that happening again. That he has the idiosyncratic power to do so only exposes how drastic is the need for radical Lords reform.