Dishonoured honourables and the honours to come
I am very struck by the huge response to both Snowblog and Channel 4 News this week – high-quality contributions and a number of very personal comparisons with what is happening in regard to disclosure of MPs‘ arrangements. Stan, as you return to work today after nine months without a job, I wish you well.
Buried in the cascade of disclosures last night on Channel 4 News was the revelation that a “behind closed doors process” (to which we, the media, let alone “we, the people” had no access) had found two of the four accused peers guilty of accepting potential bribes to change laws (as forecast in Snowblog).
Lords Taylor and Truscott face suspension from the House of Lords for six months. In any other democracy they would have been expelled for life. Amazingly, however, it seems you cannot be expelled from the Lords and must remain with the power to go on affecting our lives, for life.
But is worth adding that in an office behind Victoria Street in London, civil servants are putting the finishing touches to the Queen’s birthday honours – to be announced in under three weeks’ time.
There is almost no democratic scrutiny of these – as we reported in Channel 4’s Dispatches Secrets of the Honours System. The Queen herself awards these things “on advice” from the honours committee which works out of Whitehall, with “guiding” input from Downing Street.
And as we grind towards the general election, many Cabinet ministers and retiring opposition senior MPs are beginning to jockey for a place in the Lords. How many more people are to be added to the 800 or so already in the upper legislature, for life?
Edmund Dell (a minister in the Callaghan government) seems to be one of the only Cabinet ministers not so rewarded (he lost out for changing parties at the critical moment). Michael Foot, John Major, and Tony Benn are amongst the tiny minority who have never accepted a peerage.
But the real prospect exists that Hazel Blears, Jacqui Smith and Michael Martin (speakers have been going there automatically for half a century or more) and the rest will be put into the House of Lords, long to reign over us.