Saturday, 17 November 2012

End of the peer show

Rumours have reached Liberator of the imminent announcement of a new batch of life peers, including up to 15 Liberal Democrats. This was originally planned for the spring, but postponed because of Lords reform. With the defeat of reform proposals, the list of new peers has been revived.

The argument for appointing more peers is ostensibly to adjust the party balance more in line with the Commons, since Labour still has more peers than the Tories (225 to 212). Despite that argument, news of more appointments will not go down well with existing peers.

The number of peers has reached absurd proportions (currently 760, plus another 52 on leave of absence or disqualified from sitting), making it one of the largest legislative chambers in the world. Quite apart from the growing costs, the never ending expansion of the Lords is causing serious problems with such things as the allocation of office space and other working facilities.

Who will be the lucky Liberal Democrats this time? One name perpetually at the top of the rumour list is Brian Paddick, to be rewarded for his two attempts to become Mayor of London. Otherwise, if past experience is anything to go by, appointments will be used to beef up the numbers of women and ethnic minorities in parliament. In any event, all appointees will be expected to work as full-time peers (unless they have been unusually generous donors). And given the growing rebelliousness of Liberal Democrat peers, Nick Clegg is unlikely to make a rod for his own back by appointing any more potential rebels (which is why it would be a surprise if any of the MPs who lost their seats in 2005 or 2010 will be sent to the Lords).

The party has awarded peerages to most of its women who have served as council leaders, so a strong contender must be Barbara Janke, who was leader of Bristol City Council until she resigned in April. Rumours are also circulating of Julie Smith (policy wonk and Cambridge councillor) and Deirdre Razzall (editor of Liberal Democrat News until it finally closed last week).

Liz Lynne (former MP and MEP) must be a strong contender. However, her fellow former MEP Diana Wallis resigned from the European Parliament in controversial circumstances and may be passed over.

We must not forget, of course, the Liberal Democrats’ interim peers panel, last elected in 2010. There should have been fresh elections this year, but the party’s Federal Executive decided to cancel them because of Lords reform. When those reforms were themselves cancelled, the FE failed to revive the scheduled election.

The 2010 peers panel remains current till 2014, however. Might Clegg pick any of his nominations from this list? Only one person elected to the 2010 panel has so far been ennobled, and that is Sal Brinton. Of the remainder, the likeliest candidate is Chris Bones, a management consultant and close ally of Clegg, who you may recall in 2008 led the Bones Commission into party reform. Others on the panel who are more of an outside bet are David Boyle, Liz Leffman and Mike Tuffrey; none of the others seems likely.

But whoever gets a peerage, the inflated size of the House of Lords will serve only to hasten reform of one sort or another.

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