Peter Mandelson should save his slimming tips for the House of Lords

Author:
Mike Wright, Head of Communications

Posted on the 7th March 2024

Lord Peter Mandelson found himself in the headlines a couple of times this week. Firstly, when he criticised Labour’s plans to scrap the unelected Lords and replace it with an elected chamber that better represents the country. Then later in the week the peer ended up on the front page of the Times with comments that Labour leader Keir Starmer needs to shed a few pounds and that would be an improvement” 

The former comments were more expected than latter. In his attack on the Lords, Lord Mandelson argued on the podcast of the Lords speaker, Lord McFall, that his party’s plans for reform have “barely been put in the oven yet, let alone [been] fully baked”.  

Of course, as we found in our recent report Unfinished Business, countless parliamentary hours have been spent debating, reviewing and voting on reform of the Lords over the last twenty-five years. And what is striking about the proposals that arose, is the many areas of agreement across the draft papers, bills and committee recommendations. Consensus on issues such as Commons primacy, independence, on scrutiny, electoral arrangements and reducing the size. Not only are there many areas of agreement on reform, including amongst peers themselves, there is also cross-party support for change. 

Since Labour announced its proposals for an elected upper chamber in 2022, proposals that were drawn up by the man who handed Lord Mandelson his peerage in 2008 – Gordon Brown, Lord Mandelson has become a regular critic of the policy. However, it seems the peer is far more concerned about the seeming anatomical bloat of his leader than the constitutional bloat of the Lords where he sits.  

Only China’s rubber-stamping National People’s Congress is bigger 

At around 800 members, the Lords is the second largest legislative chamber in the world after China’s National People’s Congress. The Lords has also remained stubbornly over-weight despite repeated attempts to slim it down. Most notable was the 2017 Burns report, which recommended the upper chamber adopt a ‘two out, one in’ diet when it came to creating new peers in an attempt to reduce it to a less absurd size.

Yet, since then, Westminster has proved utterly incapable of getting the unelected Lords to smaller and more sustainable size. Instead, we have seen a collapse of restraint as a succession of prime minsters has stuffed more and more peers into the Lords via honours and resignation lists, including from Liz Truss at the New Year. 

What is clear is that our current grossly oversized unelected Lords is an unsustainable weight bearing down on our constitution. This is why we need to scrap it and replace it with a leaner, elected chamber that has a set number of politicians. As well as ending the absurd situation of prime ministers stuffing endless new peers onto the Lords’ crimson benches, it should be the people of this country who decide who sits in parliament. 

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