There is nothing democratic about these by-elections

Jon Narcross, former Communications Officer

Posted on the 18th June 2021

While the Conservatives’ shock loss in the Chesham and Amersham by-election might dominate the headlines, Liberal Democrat Sarah Green MP will not be the only parliamentarian to join Westminster this week.

The results of two sets of Hereditary Peer by-elections were also announced on Thursday, as four new legislators-for-life took their seats in the Lords.

Lord Sandhurst, the Earl of Leicester and Lord Altrincham were selected as three new Conservative peers, in an election which saw just 36 voters – all-male aristocrats – get to decide who will rule over our laws for decades to come.

Meanwhile Lord Londesborough was elected as a Crossbencher to replace the Countess of Mar in an election which replaced the only female hereditary peer in the House. Now every one of the Lords 92 hereditaries will be a man.

All four can now vote on our laws and claim £323 per day, after securing fewer than 200 votes between them. It’s a bad parody of democracy, and voters are the butt of the joke.

Why? The end of hereditary by-elections is a long time coming. The 1999 House of Lords Act removed all but 92 of these aristocrats from the house. In one go 667, hereditary peers lost the right to vote on our laws.

The compromise – meant to be the first phase of reform – meant that when a hereditary peer dies, retires or resigns from the house, the vacancy is filled with a member of an official ‘register’ of hereditary aristocrats, sorted by their party.

Meanwhile, in Chesham and Amersham over 38,000 voters took to the polls to elect just one MP. In the Lords, 36 Conservative peers selected three. How is it that a few dozen aristocrats can still – in 2021 – have more sway than thousands of voters?

There is nothing democratic about these so-called elections in the Lords.

Each election sees a tiny clique, sometimes fewer than the number of candidates themselves, getting to decide which aristocrat remains in parliament with a lifetime appointment to vote on our laws.

It’s time for them to go.

There have been many attempts to scrap these sham elections, with bills debated to end the absurd spectacle. Even the Lord Speaker agrees their time is up, with a need to slim down the ever-increasing chamber – which now stands at over 800 members.

But these moves have always been blocked by hereditary peers who have repeatedly filibustered – talked out – attempts to end the practice. It’s a real example of how these roles are not merely for show – they have real sway over the shape of our democracy.

It is simply untenable that the Lords claim to oppose new appointments to the upper house while refusing to scrap this nonsensical process.

We urgently need to modernise this private member’s club. Peers make sure these so-called elections are the last and scrap hereditary peerages for good.

It’s time we ended these mock elections and had full reform of the Lords, so every seat is elected, by the people, not the peers.

Sign our petition so the public, not aristocrats, elect the House of Lords

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