There can be few recent Government announcements that have been as badly timed as yesterdays news that 30 working Peers are to be created to join the already bloated Party benches in the Lords. In the context of austerity measures that have created devastation across the country with swingeing cuts to benefits and public sector jobs and when 52% of the population are struggling to pay their bills there could not be a more insensitive time to add even more Parliamentarians at a cost of up to £300 per day plus office and travel costs to the Government wages bill. The average annual cost of each Peer is reported to amount to £131,000. To make these announcements on the same day as Zimbabwe has been criticised for poor electoral practices without any public debate or explanation as to how to meet the cost which could be as much as £4M drives a coach and horses through the concept of public accountability. That the leaders of the two largest parties are on annual leave and therefore inaccessible to the media simply adds to the show of disrespect. That UKIP are complaining that they too should have been on this particular gravy train means that all of these parties are as guilty as the others.
The majority of the thirty people selected don’t add any substantial skills or experience to the existing diverse range of 780 Peers, although one imagines that no one bothered with any skills analysis. There are business owners, party donors, people who spin political messages, retired politicians and lobbyists. Possibly the only real exception to this is the choice of Doreen Lawrence who has decided to take the Labour Whip. In many ways the anger and reaction that is being expressed across the country is being tempered simply because of the inclusion of Mrs Lawrence. One might question if she is being used as a publicity shield for the other 29. These additions are reported to be as part of the coalition policy to change the Lords to reflect the results of the 2010 general election. On this basis argues UKIP, they should get three Peers. Had the coalition used earlier Parliamentary time to usher in a law to allow Peers to resign (or be retired), they could have reduced the head count and budget to achieve the same balance. Alternatively bearing in mind the numerous policies that have gone unmet, they could simply allow the imbalance to remain.
I have managed to identify three glints of a silver lining to this very dark cloud. The first is the decision to appoint Doreen Lawrence to the second chamber. She is someone who will bring enormous value to the revising house and one imagines will gain respect and make at least a thirtieth of this decision very popular. The second is the news that Alec Ferguson was confident enough to turn his back on the offer of a peerage, preferring instead to spend time with his family. It would have been fascinating had Fergie used his famous hairdryer technique actually in the chamber. Finally the news that Nigel Farage is managing to challenge the outcome, whilst at the same time arguing that the these appointments show corruption in all of the other parties reminds us that along with the other party leaders UKIP has no scruples when it comes to grabbing power. They are not so different after all!
Let us have a fit for purpose second chamber that does include the likes of Doreen Lawrence. If it must reflect the last General election result, then we certainly don’t need nearly twice as many in this Chamber as in the lower house. It is time for the control of this process (if not the selection of the people involved) to be moved away from those who benefit from the end result and given to the people who are being expected to pay for this.