Fellow mobility frameworks campaigner, Tim Brennan of Carry on Touring, posted a thread recently on social media to mention one of the many stark political contrasts present in our country. Boris Johnson and other honours lists granted ‘unconventional figures’ entry into the UK’s upper house such as Lord Lebedev of Siberia, deemed a security threat by UK secret services, and other new members who may bring about manipulation of democratic processes, such as wealthy Tory donors who may have ‘bought’ their way in or ‘chums’ of the government, who would allow their legislation to bypass the Lord’s restraints.
Selected Labour MPs and members of the public have reinforced their views that ‘unelected peers’ should be abolished. Open Britain included this in a question for the priorities of a new government. Those who are there to help the government meet its aims are a huge contrast to fully working members of the House of Lords who serve this country.
The House of Lords and many of its members, some of whom did gain their seat via a hereditary peerage, bring many benefits to our country, culture and society.
In day-to-day life, many are not aware of how much the Lords contribute to political processes. They act as SMEs (subject matter experts). They review legislation, participate in healthy political debates on government policies and their consequences.
I have noted in particular debates on :
- problems created for the creatives and services in the Brexit deal due to its poor mobility frameworks or complete lack of these.
- The role of the arts in education.
- Points about IR35 where members really have gone into the nitty gritty of impact.
There is so much activity in the House of Lords that it would be hard for members of the public to keep up with it all. The debates are documented in the Hansard and can be viewed live or via catch up on Parliament TV. My references are the tip of the iceberg.
The Lords build up background knowledge on areas specific to business, professionals, creatives, environment, and citizens to participate and clarify issues. All of this is time consuming if the peer is really doing his or her job fully. An external senior management consultant in the public sector would bill at least double or triple the rate each peer receives for a daily sitting.
Outside of the debates, sensible and searching questions posed to the UK government on various topics require members of the upper house to read up in detail on issues. These questions to the government are very important.
Peers are able to raise issues MPs may have ignored when raised due to lack of time to cover everything or indifference. Whatever that issue may be, it boosts the spirits of those dealing with the issue to have listening ears be that human rights, environment or trade.
The Lords carry out surveys on various topics. For example, the Lords UK-EU Services inquiry which gave many business owners and freelancers opportunities to raise and document issues caused by the Brexit TCA, the very experts the government has ignored.
Reports may be submitted in writing and some experts participate in interviews. This evidence is made available for those who wish to read it.
Safety net and peer review process
Review of legislation in the upper house is a crucial process. In any company, a business plan, report or document would be subject to review. The Lords work in a similar fashion.
Think of the members as a talent pool of knowledge and experience, the grown ups in the room compared to the pantomime seen in recent government escapades during the Johnson and Sunak regimes. Each peer has a profile page listing their experience in and outside of politics, their committee memberships (special interest areas) and other roles.
Many of the peers are political heavy weights with decades in office, such as Lord Chris Patten and Lord Heseltine. Their many warnings on the Johnson Brexit failures to date have turned into reality. They have given the public the ‘sharp shock’ of reality in contrast to the mendacious rhetoric of Boris and Co. Heseltine long warned of the dangers of Johnson.
In terms of the cultural scene, think of members such as Baroness Deborah Bull (ballerina who later became creative director of the Royal Opera House) and the Earl of Clancarty, himself an artist and very much in touch with issues, who has the role of special advisor on art. Culture and art are a very important aspect of our society, heritage and economy, even if some politicians dismiss these as unimportant. Food for the soul, but also a huge pull in terms of economic wealth. Remember that the highest revenue generator in Sweden after Volvo was ABBA. Our culture and art are a big draw for tourism on a national and international level.
In the North East region, Baroness Joyce Quin, with a distinguished career in UK politics and a former MEP, who I have heard speak during presentations about regional investment in restoration programmes via EU regional funding. Baroness Quin is an expert on the RDF and regional development.
Baroness Ludford of the Liberal Democrats, has a distinguished CV with work as councillor, MEP and interest in human rights.
Regionally, Lord Alan Beith is known to many with years of experience in parliament supporting constituents as MP for Berwick in addition to Lord Purvis of Tweed.
Lord Adonis, famously known as ‘the train man’, for his experience in rail transport sector who warned Theresa May in his resignation letter about her acts of destruction to the UK in her Brexit process. He too spoke up, on the subject of nationalisation. During our EU membership, we could have nationalised industries. There was no barrier to that, as evidenced in German government ownership of the rail sectors.
There are too many achievements amongst peers to summarise here.
We need some control – the Lords as a safety net
Baroness Lawrence wrote a very good piece on Europe before the referendum in 2016. Europe is not an elite conspiracy against the public. 12 June 2016, New Statesman
She is yet another member who puts important issues into perspective while those around us were engaging the public with campaign based sound bites and slogans under the guide of Dominic Cummings, the famous bus promises which never appeared for the NHS.
The Leave campaign tried to pitch the debate as being about the people against the establishment. Doreen Lawrence wrote that “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Europe was not a conspiracy, EU membership and controls placed via the European Parliament acted as an extra safety net, rather like the House of Lords; all of this is crucial should we wish to have that extra layer of control to reign in the adverse impact on safety from an extremist government on any side of the political spectrum.
Given the events of the last seven years since Brexit, the Covid pandemic and Johnsonism in politics, that level of control from the upper house is highly necessary! The Lords really can help us.
The very reason Johnson and colleagues place unconventional figures in the Lords is so that they may manipulate the democratic system to facilitate their own aims.
Generations will look back in the Hansard and see the warnings from the peers, the role they placed to mitigate damage and to rectify problems.
Brexit took away our livelihoods, careers, trade, parts of our livestyle and rights in a puff of smoke. Gone. To me, the Lords pre and post-Brexit feel like the Good Fairy in Sleeping Beauty, who is able with the last wish of the infant princess, to soften the curse of the evil witch that Sleeping Beauty would die from the prick of a spindle to one in which she would enter a 100 year slumber until a handsome prince kissed her cheek…
The Lords strive to repair some of the damage to Brexit Britain forced into chaos and restrictions.
It is quite clear that Keir Starmer is NOT going to be the prince who will awaken the sleeping princess from her Brexit-induced slumber. I hold hopes that a figure like Ed Davey may be able to force his hand on that one day…
Reform not abolish
Our democracy should never be up for sale or deteriorate into a chumocracy. Better governance is evidently required on who is appointed to the house.
However, the idea of abolishing the upper house and the roles of its members who do good horrifies me. Judge each member of the Lords on his or her merits, some of whom are quite clearly national treasures in terms of their knowledge, experience and commitment, a talent pool in the service of Britain which we should not throw away. It is Johnsonism, self-service, insider trading and all the negative things which go with that which we should firmly abolish from British politics to a dustbin. Johnson is infamous now, like Guy Fawkes, as his politics turned the UK into his bendy banana republic. Many of the Lords on the other hand are the ‘good eggs’, his antithesis, who are now proven to be on the right side of history.
Political extremism is damaging, whatever form it takes in the future; it wastes resources and time, as we have noted in recent events with the Rwanda scheme.
Thank the Lords!