28 January 2009
What really matters about the potential scandal brewing in the House of Lords is not that there might be some dodgy members who've been caught out sounding as though they were negotiating possible bribes, but that the story might actually get us thinking again about why such people are awarded peerages in the first place – given that not all former MPs, MEPs or Leaders of Blackburn (and other city) councils get a seat there on retirement.
The hereditary basis for sitting in the House of Lords was embarrassing enough for anyone wanting to defend or take pride in British democracy, but the ramshackle replacement is no less embarrassing. In one sense, it’s even worse, as it’s come from a premeditated and supposedly carefully thought out reform of the system, rather than from a legacy of feudalism that previous governments had never bothered to get rid of.
Worthy though most of the miscellany of retired MPs and mysteriously selected ‘great and good’ Lords may be, they are not elected by anyone, not accountable to anyone and not obliged to depart until they die. As such, there is no democratic principle I've ever heard of that would justify their playing any legislative role at all in a modern democracy.