I’m finding the whole ‘cash for honours‘ scandal rather surreal. And not just because there’s something odd about the idea of a sequence of Tony Blair’s close advisers being arrested and government tootling along regardless.
As long as I can remember, it has been an accepted fact of the British political system that people who donate a lot of money to political parties are more likely to be given peerages. It’s always been seen as slightly distasteful, and a cause for satire and criticism, but still: more or less normal. The only difference with the current situation is that they are accused of making the quid pro quo explicit. Now clearly the goverment shouldn’t be selling seats in the legislature, and now we’ve got rid of the hereditaries, the dodginess of that has been thrown into relief somewhat; but I just don’t believe that the current government has done anything very different to those who went before.
And the answer, really, is reform of the way the membership of House Of Lords is selected. I don’t generally worry about the fact that the UK’s constitutional arrangements are so messy and chaotic, because looking around the world for comparisons, our political culture seems pretty healthy. But having the Prime Minister able to appoint people to the upper chamber is a conflict of interest too far. Either Lords should be elected (which is what it looks like will happen) or appointed by an independent committee.
Anyway, if you’ve read this far, you deserve some comic relief in the form of a letter to today’s Times. This is the first paragraph:
Sir, Ideas to transform the House of Lords into either an elected chamber or a combination of elected and appointed members are both dangerous to the British political system. In such a fraught debate, the cry of democracy rises up, but with little thought about how such a principle works in practice. The British tradition has never been one of democracy on the model of Ancient Greece. Indeed, many societies that have taken that model to its logical conclusion have themselves come unstuck — witness the French revolutionary experiment.
Yes, you read correctly: someone is comparing an elected second chamber to… The Terror. Personally I thought it only got funnier from then on.