Cronyism and a lack of the expertise it is designed to hold have been the battle cries for reformers of the House of Lords. The recent scandal involving the published proposals for peerages and other honours by David Cameron upon his leaving 10 Downing Street has only stoked the fire threatening to engulf the second chamber.
Since the 1976 ‘Lavender List’, the House of Lords has enjoyed a reputation for being filled with the undeserving and the uncommitted. Recent controversies have included the paying of £360,000 in expenses to 62 non-voting peers and the resignation of Lord Sewel after a video of him snorting cocaine from a woman’s chest was revealed.
The resignation honours list proposed by David Cameron contained a host of individuals that could reduce the significance of the honours and peerage systems. The honours system is not the greatest concern, it is designed to reward those that have achieved great things, engaged in philanthropic work and built businesses from scratch. What many see as a far greater problem is the ushering of political allies into the second chamber. Further furore over the ‘old-boys’ network has incited hatred among many that feel institutions, such as the Prime Minister’s Policy Unit, have played up to their reputation for being a sure-fire channel into a peerage as discovered by Norman Blackwell in 1997 and Camilla Cavendish in 2016. Other long-term allies of the Prime Minister were included in the list: Gabby Bertin, Director of External Affairs; Laura Trott, Head of Strategic Communications; Chris Lockwood, former Deputy Head of the Prime Minister’s Policy Unit and Ed Llewellyn the PM’s Chief of Staff since 2010.
What is considered so potentially damaging is whether or not these individuals have been nominated for their expertise or for their service. However we are often overlooking valuable expertise by branding those that have served as ‘cronies’ and ignoring the need to reward service.
The loyalty of a Prime Minister’s staff is crucial, not just for the PM but for the people, as a politician cannot govern successfully if they are not secure within their closest circles and provided with the best advice. Whether a politician is admired or detested it is in the country’s interest if they are able perform their job to the best of their abilities. Being able to ensure the loyalty of, sometimes, fickle aides is a requirement of good government. The capability of rewarding the most effective and steadfast advisors enables government to be run successfully, while attracting the best and brightest into politics. Many of those nominated by Cameron have not had careers exclusively in government. Camilla Cavendish was the first CEO of the South Bank Employer’s Group which led the regeneration of the South Bank in the 1990s. For six years Chris Lockwood was the Asia Editor for the Economist and for another seven years he was the US editor. If there are questions over the expertise of the nominated peers, then they possess it. If the question is over service, then they have served it.
The Electoral Reform Society, among others, have claimed that the way to solve these ‘poor’ practices is to introduce an elected second chamber. This is wrong. While democratic legitimacy is paramount for the House of Commons, the Lords are severely limited in their abilities to block the Commons, in fact a Finance Bill may be presented for Royal Assent without the consent of the Lords. An elected second chamber may lead to political gridlock, as it does frequently in the US when disagreements over the national budget can cause government departments to shut down. The counter-argument to this is that the 1911 Parliament Act will prevent gridlock from occurring due to limits on the powers of the Lords. However if the public elect the House of Lords in the same manner as the Commons then it defeats the purpose of the election to make them an inferior house by reducing them to a house of expertise, one which would demand equal power due to their equal mandate. Furthermore with elections comes the need to be a prominent and charismatic public figure which reduces the likelihood of ensuring the world class expertise that the House of Lords currently enjoys. The House of Lords needs reform, but elections are not the way to do it. The second chamber would be overruled by the Commons to prevent gridlock, similar to the way it is now, and instead of doctors, lawyers, scientists and campaigners sitting in the Lords we would have more politicians, something many feel there are enough of already.
In conclusion claims of cronyism are not new, they extend as far back as 1945 when Winston Churchill published his resignation honours list. Rewarding politicos with peerages inspires enduring loyalty and hard work that provides the Prime Minister with the opportunity to govern to the best of his or her abilities on behalf of the people and their nation. The proposals made by David Cameron for the House of Lords are not the abomination they are made out to be, there are potentially valuable additions in his list and we have been far too hasty to dismiss them. While there are problems with cronyism in the Lords an elected second house is not the way to cure them, it simply opens the doors for the cronies to be voted in and have more power than ever before.