Liz Truss’ resignation honours could be a turning point for reform

Mike Wright, Head of Communications

Posted on the 16th August 2023

News reports this weekend revealed that Liz Truss’s controversial honours list is making its way through the vetting process with the Cabinet Office and House of Lords Appointments Commission (HOLAC). This suggests that the UK’s shortest-serving prime minister is getting ready to hand out life-long jobs in the Lords to supporters and friends, despite serving just 49 days in office. Two people put forward for honours have reportedly declined, due to the controversy the list is likely to provoke.

It seems Rishi Sunak is unlikely to block his predecessor’s list, despite calls for him to do so, to avoid causing a scandal with the public. Yet this now sets up what could be a pivotal moment for the House of Lords and the case for reform. For decades, honours lists and the dishing out of new peerages have been an unseemly but ultimately background element of politics, although with increasing scrutiny in recent years due to a string of controversial elevations by Boris Johnson. The spectre of a Liz Truss handing out honours despite a 49 disastrous days in No 1o will thrust the process into the foreground, and in a way unlikely to enhance the upper chamber’s reputation with the public.

Rock bottom support for the Lords as it is

This comes against a backdrop of the House of Lords already having rock bottom support among the public. Recent research by the think tank Labour Together found only 21 per cent of people trust unelected peers to act in the best interests of the people, behind journalists (22%), MPs (24%) and business leaders (34%).

At the same time, reforming the upper chamber so that its members are elected was the most supported solution for the unelected Lords, with 66% of the public behind the idea. It is clear that the public does not support having over half of parliament unelected and shaping legislation without any democratic legitimacy.

This highlights the unsustainable constitutional situation the UK has, where the Lords is becoming increasingly controversial and scandal-prone, while not having support or a mandate from the public to carry out its job.

A Liz Truss resignation honours list would be a nadir in this spiral. But it should also be a turning point for reform, showing that the current system cannot go on. The Lords needs urgent reform to make it a functional and legitimate part of parliament that strengthens rather than corrodes trust in our democracy.

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