Lords appointments – honours for the moneymen?
New team member Jennifer Lipman takes a look at the reaction to yesterday’s Lords appointments
The fight for a comfortable spot on the red benches stepped up a notch this week, following the announcement of 30 new working peers. Of the newcomers, 14 are Conservative appointees, 10 are Lib Dems, five are Labour and the Greens will see their first representative in the chamber, former mayoral hopeful Jenny Jones.
The full list can be found here, but the big names to be aware of are Doreen Lawrence, acknowledging her nearly 20-year fight for justice for her son Stephen. Other notable new peers include Times journalist (and two-time PPC) Daniel Finkelstein (Conservative) and former Lib Dem mayoral candidate Brian Paddick.
But naturally, given the history of appointments to the Lords – most notably the cash for peerages scandal during Tony Blair’s time – it is the elevation of certain party donors that has garnered the most attention.
Among those who will be taking seats in the chamber are JCB boss Sir Anthony Bamford, who has in the past donated millions to the Tories (£5m, according to the Mirror), Conservative fundraiser Howard Leigh, and Labour backer Sir William Haughey.
Lib Dem peer Lord Oakeshott led the criticism, telling the Telegraph that the elevation of more moneymen was yet another sign that the writing is on the wall for an unelected second chamber.
‘Cash for peerages pollutes parliament and political parties who collude in this,’ he said. ‘It’s now more urgent and vital than ever that we elect the lords and get big money out of British politics for good.’
Reform of the Lords was of course a key Lib Dem policy going in to the last general election, and despite the House of Lords Reform Bill 2012 being defeated with the help of disgruntled Conservative backbenchers last August, it remains top of the wish-list for many in the party. Nevertheless the Lib Dems are not immune to criticism: two substantial Lib Dem donors – Ministry of Sound boss James Palumbo and Domino’s Pizza entrepreneur Rumi Verjee – will be taking up seats in the Lords soon too.
Labour tends to be relatively divided on Lords reform, but the suggestion that wealthy donors were being rewarded with a seat was seized upon by some Labour MPs, with Selly Oak MP Steve McCabe remarking that this was ‘another example of the Prime Minister standing up for his wealthy donor friends while families see their living standards fall’.
And the Green Party, not known for being the most vocal proponents of the Lords (they want an elected chamber voted in on PR lines), were still celebrating yesterday. They seem to have taken the approach of enacting ‘change from the inside’, with party leader Natalie Bennett commenting ‘we can only hope this can act as a spur towards wider reform of this house… It isn’t too late for action within the term of this parliament.’
Meanwhile, the cost of the new peers was highlighted: given that they can claim a daily attendance cost of £300 plus certain travel costs, the bill for the taxpayer is expected to be an extra £1.2m. Of course, that’s assuming they all turn up, all of the time – which is unlikely. And others noted that with the new influx, there will be more members of the Lords than MEPs in the European Parliament.
Given that the Lib Dems did fairly well out of this new batch of appointees, internal dissent in the Coalition on the decision could well have been limited. But the appointments will do nothing to change the image that political leaders are out of touch, or dampen public displeasure about wealthy donors being rewarded.