Advancing a Free Society

Lords reform: Britain needs a better upper house–and not just a second Commons

Friday, December 3, 2010

Name me the country in which more than 50 new members of parliament have just been appointed for life. Most of them have been nominated by a political party, without any vote. No secret is made of the fact that for several of the appointees, as has long been the custom in that country, this life membership of the legislature is a reward for their generous financial contributions to one or other party. And, unlike for prisoners, "life" means until they die. As a result, one in three members of the existing chamber is over 75 years old.

Turkmenistan? Zimbabwe? Transnistria? No, that country is Britain, one of the oldest parliamentary democracies in the world. For all its talk of a "new politics", the coalition government last month announced the appointment of more than 50 new members of the Lords. The Conservatives' list included such luminaries as Robert Edmiston, described in a BBC report as "a multimillionaire car salesman, who gave £2m to the party before the 2005 election". According to BBC research, the donors now being paid back with Conservative peerages have helped the party to electoral success with a total of £4,678,636.

Continue reading Timothy Garton Ash in The Guardian