Last week, the first of the Prime Minister’s 36 new appointments to the unelected House of Lords began to take their seats. They did so at a time of growing public outrage at the state of the second chamber.
When Boris Johnson handed his brother a peerage in July – a job for life at the centre of the UK Parliament – it rightly raised some eyebrows from political onlookers.
Bestowing further lifetime legislative posts to the Lords to a politically-friendly newspaper baron, political donors and the chair of the campaign that propelled him to power showed that this appointment was not a one-off: instead it another chapter in the story of cronyism that is the House of Lords.
Over the past 13 years at least 22 former donors to political parties have been given peerages, according to calculations by the Financial Times. Those individuals have given £50.4m to the main three parties.
Now it seems, voters have had enough of this rolling cash-for-honours scandal. New polling by Survation for the ERS has found that 71% now support an overhaul of Britain’s bloated upper house, with 43% of respondents in favour of a partially or fully elected replacement, and 28% supporting its abolition entirely. What’s even more striking is just 12% of people supported keeping the chamber in its current form.
The same poll found that more than in four in 10 of respondents (44%) said that they opposed the new appointments made to the House of Lords – more than the double the percentage of those who said they supported the appointments (19%).
A wake-up call for the government and peers alike
This should be a wake-up call for the government and peers alike: back real reform, or see public support for abolition sky-rocket.
The latest raft of appointments fly in the face of commitments to shrink overside Lords – riding roughshod over the supposed independence of the chamber, which has itself hopes to reduce their numbers to 600 through a ‘one-in, two-out’ system. Of course, such noble intentions can be instantly overridden by the Prime Minister of the day, making a mockery of so-called self-regulation.
These 36 new appointments, the second-highest number in more than two decades, will swell the already bloated chamber to over 800 members. Only the Chinese National People’s Congress is a larger legislature, with nearly 3000 seats.
Trust in Parliament is only possible when people know they can boot out those who are not working in the public interest.
Yet it is the same powerless public who continue to be forced to foot the bill for the ever-expanding chamber of political cronies, special advisers and donors – a glaring inequity at the heart of our politics.
As opposition to the status quo grows, so does the support for reform. Nearly 400,000 people have signed an ERS petition calling for the House of Lords to be scrapped and replaced, demonstrating the growing anger against the Prime Minister continuing to dish out jobs for life in this way.
The way forward lies in a smaller democratic chamber, elected through proportional representation – one that can stand up for all the nations and regions of the UK. This could truly ‘level up’ all parts of the UK – a far cry from the over-sized, London-dominated mess we have today.
It’s time we gave people a say on who votes on our laws. The unpopularity of the second chamber will soon start to rub off on the PM – who is mulling over appointing even more party donors later this year.
With support now alarmingly high for abolition of the second chamber, peers themselves should listen up – or get swept away.