About twelve months ago, I wrote about how David Cameron had just created 45 new peers to sit in the House of Lords, bringing the total membership of the so-called “Upper House” to 826.
The whole episode was rightly branded “the honours that shame Britain.” The ennobled included retired MPs, MPs who had lost their seats at the 2015 General Election, political fixers, lobbyists and various donors to the Conservative Party.
I remember, as a life-long campaigner for democratic reform, expressing my anger at how such unelected and unaccountable individuals could be appointed through political sponsorship and allowed real and far-reaching legislative influence.
And yet, it has happened again.
In his “resignation honours list,” David Cameron has been able to hand out a total of 62 awards, almost all of which go to his inner circle and longstanding political allies, his aides and employees, or donors to the Conservative Party.
The list included George Osborne becoming a “Companion of Honour” and a number of Tory MPs and others who have been knighted or become dames. A host of CBEs, OBEs and MBEs have also been handed out, with even the “special advisor” to David Cameron’s wife securing a gong.
Such personal patronage makes a mockery of the honours system, and it should never be allowed to happen again.
But the element of the “resignation honours list” which most offends me is the creation of 16 new life peers –13 of which are Conservatives – who will all have a direct say in the future governance of the United Kingdom.
It has already been disclosed that one new Lord called Andrew Fraser, and described as the “Treasurer of the Conservative Party,” had actually gifted the Tories about £2.5 million in recent years.
It has been reported that Fraser was the “fifth or sixth biggest individual donor to the Conservatives in the last parliamentary cycle,” and that their two most generous benefactors, James Lupton and Michael Framer, had previously been given peerages by Cameron. Another donor to the Conservatives who has just became a Lord was Jitesh Gadhia who, like Fraser, was also an investment banker.
It all reminds me of the newspaper which, last year, sarcastically told its readers: “Selling peerages is illegal … but an academic study has shown that giving large sums to a political party does have a remarkedly positive effect on the chances of said donor having their talents recognised in an honours list.”
Put bluntly, the present House of Lords is an out-dated institution that has no place in twenty-first century Britain. For the sake of our democracy, it must be reformed into a fully elected second chamber or abolished altogether.