Yesterday, the government announced the dissolution list. This told us all the people who are becoming peers, getting knighthoods or other royal honours as a result of the general election coming and going. This is a ritual that accompanies every general election post-mortem.
As a result of the list being published, another great British ritual took place yesterday: articles from across the political spectrum denouncing the House of Lords as a horrible institution. From the Right, we had Leo McKinstry’s “The House of Lords is full of sycophants, failed MPs, and political donors. Sack them all”. From the Left, we had the newly ennobled Peter Hain telling us, “Radical reform of the House of Lords is vital – that’s why I’m glad to be a member,” the latter reminding us of another great ritual, that of the Left’s “you have change things from the inside, man” trope, which has been used to justify many a hedge fund placement over the years. Either way, we hear the same stuff get trotted out: the scandals that “diminish the place”, the chamber being larger than the National People’s Congress of China (as if that body’s big problem accountability wise comes down to its size).
I find this whole thing annoying every time it comes around for a lot of reasons. One is that when peerages are out of season, in other words, when there have been not very many for a while, all we hear from the press is how great the upper house is. How we’d all be lost without it. How it is a great institution. How while no one would invent such a system, you have to admit, it works in practice. So it’s rich to hear everyone piping up only when nothing can be done about it.
Nick Clegg wanted to change the system. He had a whole process that all of the parties participated in to form the basis of a bill that would democratise the Upper Chamber. And then the Tories and Labour didn’t want to vote it through. And everyone gave Clegg an extremely hard time about bothering to try. Excuse me for taking from this experience the fact that Westminster, the lobby included, is in no hurry to change the House of Lords in any serious way.
Which, you know, I’m kind of relaxed about. Because the press, in their non-froth mode, kind of have a point. The House of Lords you would not invent but it does indeed kind of work. If I was going to change anything about it, I would take away the patronage aspect so that appointments were out of the prime minister’s hands. Make it so only a set number can be created every year, and that the appointments get decided by an independent body.
But you know what? We’ll never get even that much change to the Upper House for two very good reasons. One, politicians like having the House of Lords. It solves a lot of problems that otherwise might be intractable. Two, and this is much more crucial, the public really, really, really doesn’t care. I mean, you could have five Lord Sewell type controversies every week for a year, and people still wouldn’t be serious about wanting a change to the way the Upper House is structured. Given those two things, it is pretty difficult to see how it ever becomes radically different to how it is currently maintained.
In the meantime, enjoy the outrage while it lasts. Unless, like most people, you haven’t even noticed.