House of Lords

Bev sisters.jpg

It is time to end this crisis, and rescue the Lords, by insisting on a fully elected chamber, in which all peers are chosen by the same method, and yet without the same democratic mandate as the commons.

Elect the Lords – and stop our gongs going for a song

I was stuck at a traffic light yesterday when a brand new red Toyota 4X4 drew abreast, containing three extraordinary women. Their cheeks were flushed, their lips were red, they wore sexy little cream pant suits and matching cream hats, and identical pink shirts to go with the flowers in the brim.

They were in that state of innocent euphoria that causes human beings to hail complete strangers. “Oi Boris,” they shouted through the window, “we’ve just been to see the Queen!” And then the Beverley sisters (for that was how they introduced themselves) waved the square blue leather case containing the three identical ribbons and medals they had earned for a lifetime of belting out hits (I think they said there was one called Sisters) that have no doubt brought pleasure to millions, if not to you or me.

Then the honking behind us became unbearable and, as we parted, I suddenly felt all choky. As I watched these jubilant beldames kangaroo-hop from the lights, and as I listened to the chorus of horns as they tried to execute an illegal right turn, I felt a surge of emotion at their joy, their evident and ineradicable pride, at being gazetted “Members” of the British Empire, an institution that has long since collapsed and which is in any event reviled in the schools of this country.

How perfect, I thought, that in the twilight of their singing careers, the Queen has rewarded these spunky old crooners with a mark of distinction that contrives to be both ludicrous and affecting in exactly the right degree. How fine, how proper, how British.

I thought about the honours system, in all its absurdity and magnificence. I thought about how it brings a tinsel spark to so many lives, and I wondered why people were, these days, so cynical and fed up that some conservative commentators have recently called for the whole thing to be scrapped. How could anyone look at the happiness of the Beverley sisters, dolled up for the palace, and propose to snatch their prize away? Why be so cruel, when they have sung so lustily and for so long, and so well deserved their tinny guerdon?

The answer, of course, is that at the very apex of the honours pyramid there is an institution – the peerage – that is now wrapped in a fog of guilt. And beneath that fog there is one fact that is now obvious to the whole country – that peerages, places in the upper house of our legislature, can be bought and sold like golf-club memberships. It is odious, and it must stop.

I remember feeling a bit mystified, on arriving at school, to be told that some small, knock-kneed kid was guaranteed a seat in Parliament because of some feat of his great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather. It struck me as unfair on the kid, since the ruthless democracy of human reproduction had diluted the genes of his illustrious ancestor, placing the sprig firmly in the bottom form, and I wasn’t convinced that his coming role in government was fair on the rest of us, either. But I think I’d rather have the hereditary system, with all its imperfections, than the current bordello.

As I say, there is nothing wrong with honours for achievement, and the whole apparatus seems to satisfy something deep in our instincts. We live in a gong-enchanted island, a nation divided into snobs and secret snobs; and on the whole our appetite for honours – for rank, dignity, title, preferment – is a great spur to energy and aspiration. I have known lifelong Lefties, diehard republicans who have succumbed with trembling fingers to the letter from the palace, and gone out to get their morning dress with the hilarious excuse that, ahem, it is all a load of nonsense, really, but they feel obliged to accept because, er, you know, it’s not so much for themselves, as a, ah, recognition of the work done by the institution in which they were privileged to serve…

No one could object to such footling self-deception, and nor do I remotely object if people receive honours for their support of political parties. I think of my old friend and editor, the great Sir Max Hastings, who no doubt deserved a knighthood many times over, but who almost certainly clinched it by bringing the Evening Standard out for Labour in 1997, even though he knew it would mean a ban on fox-hunting and hysterical measures against people taking shotguns on aircraft. What is the moral difference between Sir Max’s act of self-sacrifice and the generosity of Chai Patel, who wanted to give so much money to Tony Blair?

If you are a rich man, and you are so public-spirited as to donate squillions to a political party, so that its members can get on with their task of understanding and improving the condition of the country, then you should surely be encouraged, not vilified. The last thing we want is for the whole political clerisy to be bankrolled exclusively by the taxpayer, with state funding for all manner of cranks, bigots and extremists. If Chai Patel and others want to give money to Labour or to the Tories, then I see no reason why they should not be rewarded with a suitable gong for their philanthropy: on two conditions.

First, that they should in future give on condition that the gift (or loan) is public; and second, that they cannot thereby ascend to the legislature. It is time to end this crisis, and rescue the Lords, by insisting on a fully elected chamber, in which all peers are chosen by the same method, and yet without the same democratic mandate as the commons.

The answer, of course, is a self-electing chamber of 500-600 of the best from all walks of life, serving for a maximum of 10 years, and electing new members from a list of candidates drawn up by the appointments commission on the proposal of a wide variety of bodies, including unions, the universities, the CBI, the professions, and all the rest of it. Election by such a body would carry immense prestige. Such peers would never have their heads turned by money. It is by far the best way forward.

85 thoughts on “House of Lords”

  1. They may be spunky old crooners to you, Bozza, but I remember the dark days of the 50s when your mate Supermac told us that we’d never had it so good, and to the impressionable mind of a schoolboy, entertainment meant the Beverley Sisters or some other bunch of third rate talentless bland middle class white person, with the occasional (daring) appearance of Nat King Cole, who was black but sounded white. What a bleak future we were faced with. Then came the other Harold, and suddenly there were the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. I hope that the current 30 conservative rule of Margaret Blair and Tony Thatcher comes to an end soon, so that we can have some more excitement.

  2. The Rolling Stones, Beatles, etc. had their first hits in 1962-1963, under Conservative rule, undoubtedly inspired by the fine Conservative government that empowered individuals by granting them liberty and freedom.

    Janis Joplin was born in that well known Labour area, of Texas USA. Jimi Hendrix hailed from Seattle, thousands of miles from the high taxation of Wilson’s UK, which drove British musicians away and inspired such songs as ‘Taxman’.

  3. Sorry Matthew, I was forgetting, you are quite right. Alec Douglas-Home was an early hippy, and Selwyn Lloyd wrote “Woodstock” and “Born to be Wild”. Don’t know how it could have slipped my memory.

  4. Errr… Boris, I thought the whole point of our peerage system was so that rich people could share the power so as to prevent them going off buying an army and threatening the Monarch/State… Seems like a bally good idea to let rich people buy some power, better that than they just take it, wouldn’t you say?

  5. Village Jester: If you thought that Nat King Cole sounded ” white “, as you put it , you need to consult an audiologist. Admitted there were some others at about the same time whose overwhelming wishes were to get away from a stifling background , It was my opinion then , and remains so to this day , that Janis Joplin owed her success to her self detestation, in a frantic aim to be loved. As has already been pointed out , neither she nor Hendrix had anything to do with your socialist revolution. HE was brought over at the express wish of Kieth Richards’ girlfriend if I remember aright. Roger Miller sang the reason it , and not because of politics either .

  6. I think Hendrix was spotted by the Animals’ Chas Chandler. But I may be wrong.

    A surprising number of US artists made their name in the UK before the US. I hadn’t realised until recently that Chrissie Hynde had made the same journey.

    As also did Iggy Pop.

  7. ‘by insisting on a fully elected chamber, in which all peers are chosen by the same method, and yet without the same democratic mandate as the commons.’

    I initially read that as ‘elected using the same method as is used in the commons’.

    This would be a very bad thing indeed. As recent history demonstrates, this country needs an independent house of lords, and one which has the mandate to do the job of checking poor legislation.

    I’m not to thrilled at the self selecting vote idea, it’s open to abuse. My ideal would be a third of the Lords up for reelection every three general elections. Each voter would be represented by three lords (not voted for by FPTP). The reasoning here is that the makeup of the Lords would not fluctuate wildly, as the commons can do, but does respond to the longer term changes in the country, and each individual has a long enough timeframe that they can defy the government, but short enough that they can be voted out.

    As an aside, I notice that despite your earlier statements along the lines of ‘ID cards over my dead body’, you, along with many other of your colleagues didn’t show up to vote last night. More than this, the Tory benches were whipped into voting ‘aye’ (24 to 8). Where were you all – and why did the ones who remained whipped to vote ‘yes’?

    This coupled with the legislative and regulatory reform bill are very illiberal pieces of legislation, the executive is taking a worrying path – and certainly in the case of the LRRB the opposition is being very quiet.

  8. Who would vote for the very first chamber? They would presumably have to be appointees. But who appoints the members of the appointments commission? Parliament? Yet another appointments commission of the great and good? And who appoints them? On it might go, ad infinitum. God forbid the people of this poor country should have a say in the matter.

    It’s also interesting to see an apparent democrat like Johnson call for a self-electing chamber. That would make it an even more closed world than it already is – though no doubt it wouldn’t be closed to someone like, oh, the current MP for Henley, perhaps…

  9. The first question to ask is:

    1. What is the second chamber for?

    When we know that, the second question is:

    2. Who are the best people to do that?

    And the third question is:

    3. How do we get those in 2. to do 1?

    To my mind the role of a second chamber is to scrutinise legislation, identify flaws and return it to the house for modification. The House of Commons should identify what he people want done, and the second chamber should ensure it is done properly.

    I support Boris’ view that a directly elected HoL would be bad for the country. We’d have HoC 2. Instead I would argue that there should be ‘elder statesmen’ from all walks of life who will bring their expertise to the house. To my mind this means representatives seconded from the unions, the royal colleges or similar learned institutions (representing expertise in teaching, nursing, medicine, arts, sciences, engineering etc.), the major religions, the judiciary, senior politicians, from industry and so on. Each member should have a fixed term of 3 to 5 years with a possibility of renewal once. There would be scope also for having a directly elected set of representatives for the regions using a multi-member constituency though I would limit this to no more than a third of the upper house.

    This would give a chamber of about 3-500 members, most of whom would have a special expertise that would be employed in the service of their country. They would be remunerated at their previous salary, plus expenses.

    As these would be people who are mostly at the top of their professions, there will be no need for them to climb the ‘greasy pole’ of politics, or, in the case of election from the professions, to have to sell themselves to people who have little understanding of that expertise. They will indeed have been elected by their peer groups (giving a democracy of sorts where the electorate is well qualified), and it will be a house of peers that can carry out a scrutineering role in as apolitical a role as possible, doing what is right rather than what is expedient.

    A directly elected upper house would be mob rule by the ignorant.


  10. Idlex: Almost right about the Animals connection.

    Linda Keith ( Richards’ girlfriend), eventually referred him to Chas Chandler, who , together with Michael Jeffrey , managed him for some time .

  11. Over the past few years The House of Lords has been the only thing that has protected our freedom and liberty from that authoritarian rabble Nu Liebore. This despite The Bliar trying to stack the house in his favour.

    If the electorate were smarter (and they clearly aren’t very bright, otherwise we wouldn’t be forced to endure this third term), then i could see that an elected second house is a good idea. As i said, the electorate aren’t that bright. Can you imagine what a state this country would be in if BOTH houses were populated by election? Do you really think anyone would vote for a different party in the second house?

    Sorry, Boris…you are wrong on this one. If you want to cut out the corruption/money-for-peerages rubbish then i have no problem – after all, it is perfectly allowable for politicians to have honour and integrity. Corruption and dishonesty is just a habit they have picked up. But please don’t make the mistake of thinking the public can be trusted to do a better job. These people voted Bliar in 3 times in a row – they clearly can’t be trusted!

  12. Its perfectly possible that i was so outraged at the prospect of losing the upper house that i may have lost the plot. Please don’t have me executed.


  13. Yup.

    Sorry Boris, I have to agree with Psimon. The upper house is the only thing that has saved us from catastrophy recently and, should it become (democratically) populated by the same calibre of fawning media sycophants as the Labour party, I think there would be bleak prospects on the horizon for the British public.

    Enter jaq, stage left, to accuse you of being a crackpot and a weak minded idealist.

  14. No. Enter raincoaster, stage extreme left, to accuse Boris of abandoning the core Conservative principles of the free market and opposition to influence peddling.

    And also to state for the record that the Beatles’ early hits, including MY BONNIE forchrissake, were recorded in Hamburg, Germany.

    It shocks and surprises me to find Boris rejecting the idea of a free market in peerages; surely such a state of financial affairs would warm the cockles of any libertarian heart. For him to do so in favour of an influence-peddling model that solidifies the hegemony of NGOs, labour unions and committees … the mind boggles, the state totters, and I’m wondering if I really DID convert Melissa to socialism and now she’s some free-range activist undermining the structure of Conservatism in the UK.

    Good work, Comrade!

  15. When it comes down to it, Johnson’s article is just another woolly-minded piece of fluff that’s been knocked out for a Thursday column. There’s no intellectual or historical depth to it; and as a proposal for dealing with out palsied constitution, it’ll sink without trace. Grammatici certant et adhuc sub iudice lis est – except our man from Henley ain’t no scholar.

  16. You know that they were wearing trouser suits. Pant suits (or pants suits) is an Americanism. Pants in English means knickers or undies, not trousers. I’d hate to think of the dear Beverley sisters meeting the Queen wearing, in effect, bikinis.

  17. Boris was, of course, born in the US and as a Turko-American immigrant, probably hasn’t quite got the hang of this British language yet. Give the lad time and I’m sure he’ll overcome the shortcomings of his background.

  18. Yes our country is going to the dogs and the only ones who can save are the dogs

  19. Bill, you are unjustly harsh about poor old Bozza. When did membership of the commons let alone the lords call for intellectual eminence or scholarship sublime? And much as I would like to support my dear friend raincoaster, I was enjoying the discussion about music much more. Which of you lot saw the Grateful Dead at Bickershaw in 1971? Bloody good wasn’t it?

  20. Vicus, I gave you a great lead on the Beatles…why not follow it up with a rant about how the fascisto-conservative state of the UK drove them to Europe to make their fortune? I can open the door for you but I can’t make you walk through it…

  21. I’ve got an idea…lets all use the past as a sandpit to hide our heads in, rather than looking to a future that offers at least a little hope!

    Oops! Sorry! Forgot that forward thinking is unfashionable nowadays.

    As you were.



  22. Vicus Scurra – you forget that the MP for Henley is regularly touted as an intellectual. Indeed, the puff for his recent book on Rome makes great play of this. But where is the original scholarly research there? There’s none whatsoever. The only thing that lifts it beyond yet another basic intro to the Romans – its ‘research’ taken from secondary sources – is the tie-in to the EU: and in terms of scholarship that has all the depth of a punt on the Cherwell…

  23. Vicus

    I saw the Dead at Bickershaw. You don’t happen to know what happened to my tent do you?

    I think Boris is quite right about gongs from Our Own Dear Queen. Roughly speaking they are a bit silly, not like the Order of Lenin, give a lot of pleasure to old troopers like the Bevs and Tom Jones, and a source of good humour for all, adding considerably to the gaiety of nations. (Queens, gaiety and the Bevs all go together of course). They are thoroughly English, not British.

    I love discussions about the House of Lords. You can see the faces poing up as earnest lefties explain why it is so undemocratic when we have any number of Quangos thinking up absurd rules and regulations for the rest of us to follow.

    I was at a function a few years ago where there was a recently knighted bod. (I think I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere). Someone else who worked with him was asked by a no nonsense businesswoman whether he wished he had got a knighthood. Po face assumed, he started on about how he didn’t really mind but if he did he would see it as an honour for the whole team etc. etc. – to which the nnb said”B******! (I didn’t say she was a lady) You’ld love to have one!”. The look on the bloke’s face said it all.

    Our Own Dear Queen was out visiting the subjects once and on being introduced to a lady, asked said lady how many children she had. “21” came back the answer. OODQ, momentarily taken aback said “Your husbnad should have a knighthood” to which the lady said “He does but it keeps slipping off”. Boom! Boom! Happy Friday everyone!

  24. And the Incredible String Band. Your tent was buried under 28 feet of mud. That green one wasn’t it? I’d tell the story about my journey back from Bickershaw, but that would be off-topic.
    Boris, Bill says your a thickie. Are you going to take that?

  25. I’m still trying to figure out if Boris’s position would require him to hunt down the Beverley sisters and take away their shiny new awards, at least until they’d been nominated by a committee and elected by an oligarchy of some kind. I imagine, once they get wind of this, those poor old biddies will go all raging grannie on his ass. No wonder he’s fleeing the country.

    Vicus, I was gonna let you off on that little slip. I see that I have wasted my magnanimity; since it is in such short supply, I’m afraid I’ll now have to go around being mean to toddlers to make up for having wasted it. I hope you’re proud.

  26. Boris would not be allowed, under UK law, to hunt down the Beverley sisters, neither would he be able to hunt down the Foxes, who are a group of singers formed by daughters of the Beverley sisters. Neither the Foxes nor the Beverley sisters were at Bickershaw, unless they were the backing group for Country Joe McDonald.

  27. I’ve always had the vague idea that, in a smaller society, the Lords roughly corresponded to the Village Elders. And that the relation of Commons to Lords was that of youthful folly to ancient wisdom. The Lords embody the customs and practices of ages, and the Commons embody innovation and experiment. The Commons make silly laws, and the Lords strike them down.

    If so, then Lords should always consist of a cross-section of English elders. They should not be appointed to the Lords by the Commons, they should not be made peers in recognition of their lifetime achievement (e.g. the Beverley Sisters), nor for having ascended to high office, nor for having once been prominent parliamentarians. The Lords should be made up perfectly ordinary people from every walk of life, called up like jurors for temporary service, to say Yay or Nay to some proposed law.

    The Parliament Act, which governments now use to ram laws through the Lords, should be revoked. To use the Parliament Act is akin to disposing of a jury altogether (something else that is also happening).

    And never mind the Beatles and the Grateful Dead: did anyone see Captain Beefheart in 1975, with Rockette Morton and Zoot Horn Rollo in the Magic Band?

    “Mister Zoot Horn Rollo, hit that long hooning note,
    …and make it float.”

  28. I consider anything after Bach to be pop music.

    That being said, The Grateful Dead have always been one of my favourite exponents of the genre.

    Sorry about to hear about peers having to be voted in though. What about chopping their heads off when they’ve outstayed their welcome or can’t make it to the bog in time?

    Dead men’s shoes and all that.

  29. Couldn’t disagree with more on this one Boris – the whole POINT of the house of Lords is that they weren’t elected and therefore not subject to the whims of ANY party politics or indeed politics in general. Think of it, think of selecting a group of people to keep an eye on politics in this country, on the now corrupt power base that is Westminster. The DUTY is hereditary so you’ve got to have a group of people that will be bound to follow in Daddys footsteps and do what is expected of them. They’ve also got to be reasonably well educated. HANG ON!! We’ve already got them – hereditary peers, you know, those people who used to own the country, or most of it. You know, that bunch of mostly farmers who had a vested interest in seeing their family inheritance done well by and their family inheritance was? England, Wales, Scotland or Ireland. The people who hosted communities, the people who nurtured the country or their parents would give them hell to pay mostly. The people for whom privilage came at a price and that price was duty, to their family and to their country in….the House of Lords. Make ’em work is what I say and keep the toadying corrupt rabble in the commons where they should be. With respect Boris.

    Of course you could always choose another group of people, hereditary plumbers?

  30. I am disillusioned man.

    For the past couple of weeks I have been regailing my friends and colleagues, ad nauseum, about the integrity shown by David Cameron in keeping his gob shut about Tory party ‘loan’ contributors. My premise being that when the loans were made these ladies and gentlemen they were, presumably, covered by non-disclosure agreements and made their ‘temporary’ donations under the aegis of some level of confidentiality.

    “Integrity,” quoth I, “That’s what the Conservatives have got! Not like the squealing little sneaks in the Labour party who bleat and spill their guts at the slightest glimpse of cold steel!”

    How wrong can you be?!?

    Boris you need to have a very firm word with your boss and inform him that ‘fragging’ senior officers (who have a lily tinge to their livers and an unattractive habit of clucking during times of adversity) is a time honoured tradition in the British forces.

    I was evidently labouring under the misaprehension that Mr. Cameron wasn’t quite as vertebrally challenged as he demonstrably is and I am singularly unimpressed.

    It seems I will be eating umble (sic) pie from now until Christmas (if there is such a thing)

  31. But if you have the Electoral Commission and the police on your trail, there may have been little option…

    What disturbs me most was not that Cameron did a U-turn, but that NuLabour seem to have successfully deflected onto the Tory party a scandal centring on Blair himself.

    I mean, there was Blair, dishing out Lordships for Loans, and keeping it secret from his own Labour party treasurer. That’s the real story: this guy dupes his own party.

    When is the Labour party going to finally turn on their deceitful and duplicitous misleader? What does he have to do before they show him the door? The longer they keep him, the more they look like a bunch of mugs, and the worse the vengeance a contemptuous electorate will wreak upon them.

  32. No nondisclosure agreement on Earth will prevent you from being legally obligated to cooperate with a police investigation. Resisting is called obstruction of justice, and is considered a criminal offence, ie payable by hard time. Also, of course, there is still some question as to the legality of the loans themselves, so keeping mum about them would, under the circumstances, be not only a PR nightmare of Enronnian proportions, but also probably bring about some arrestation.

  33. Joe Mental, don’t worry, there is such a thing as Christmas. And you will no doubt be given presents. Probably manufactured in far eastern sweatshops financed by the members of the house of lords.

  34. Yes raincoaster, I am prefectly aware of this (as you, no doubt, understand!). However, there are actions one can take to protect the information during the course of the investigation and consequently prevent wider dissemination of the names of the benefactors by the investigating officers. Further, I believe Cameron could make a big thing of keeping schtum because it is the proper thing to do.

    Every single NDA I’ve signed or written also provides recourse for the disclosing party to apply for interim or injunctive relief in the event that legal disclosure is required and which is reasonably covered by the NDA.

    Further, as I understand it, the police haven’t called for the names (yet) so this was, presumably, a purely voluntary disclosure. In the event that the parties making the loans have been consulted, and have agreed to have their names made public, I cannot criticise Cameron’s actions; I don’t, unfortunately, believe this to be the case.

    What I’m taking about here is acting honourably. Evidently socialists don’t understand the meaning of the word.

  35. VICUS! As if! Please, let the toffs speak for themselves. We should be working away, telling Joe how fabulous the Workers’ Revolution is going to be because of the short-term gains he forewent.

    What EVr

  36. Vicus:
    Probably manufactured in far eastern sweatshops financed by the members of the house of lords.

    Sorry, should I be feeling deflated or chastised? I don’t understand what you mean.

    Sure they’re (peers) a bunch of scumbags who in many cases bought their way in to the club. My point is about being true to one’s word (if these loans were made to the Conservative party in confidence) and not bowing to the court of public opinion and squealing as soon as the going gets a bit tricky.

    Cameron should go to jail rather than disclose information and identities made in confidence. I would!

  37. What a FUN thread. Wish I’d got here earlier.

    Just to clear a few things up:

    1/ You quite rightly got to the bottom of the ‘who discovered Jimi Hendrix’ debate. Keef’s girlfriend recommended him to Chas Chandler, who brought him to England and introduced Mike Jeffery, who in turn was single-handedly responsible for ripping off virtually every penny Hendrix earned, then mismanaging his affairs so spectacularly that it (arguably) hastened Hendrix’s premature death. So much for British capitalism. Well done, chaps.

    Meanwhile, the credit for nurturing Jimi’s talent should go to Jimi himself, and the year spent slogging around the all-black chitlin circuit in the States. Do let’s stop patting ourselves on the back for this one. It’s nonsense.

    2/ I was at Bickershaw too. I’m surprised and delighted to find so many Borisheads were as well. The event was promoted by a young Jeremy Beadle, which explains all that rain, and the only available beverage being Newcastle Brown.

    The Dead were of course at their brilliant best, and I Stoof for five hours in the mud by the front of the stage to verify this. As for the rest of the festival, I can’t remember a thing.

    3/ The House of Lords. Please stop quibbling. It should be elected, and that’s the end of the matter. A ‘no-brainer’ as we business folk like to say.

  38. Joe:
    Deer’s innards are umbles, no doubt about that
    So why throw a ” sic” ky? On some it fell flat.
    Game pie is a prize which you can’t win at school.
    And he who eschews it is more than fool.
    I agree with your premise that a loan , under normal circumstances is private between lender and borrower, excepting when a gain other that the agreed interest is expected. Schtumm! Dave lad.

  39. Mark

    Can I have my Rizlas back please?

    I see this second chamber thing as a device to keep both a progressive and a conservative tendency going. It’s a bit like neural networks. Two layers mean you can do things that one layer can’t, because of feedback – end of all I know about NN. I use progressive and conservative in non-perjorative senses.

    This guards against reaction (trying to go back to an imagined past) and revolution (trying to go forward to a utopia). Both are extremely dangerous and satrngely enough can co-exist. See Hitler’s rise to power.

    The nature of the elctorate and the electoral system for teh commonsclearly provides a more progressive tendency – both Thatcher and Blair moved things on, not always to everyone’s satisfaction but progress is about changing things.

    A second chamber based on heriditary peers and the Church is likely to be conservative. It’s not a bad first approximation. But the point about democracy is that there is a chance to replace your representatives, not necessarily that you get anyone good. So much as I would like the title of Lord Ramsey of March for myself and eldest sons in perpetuity I shall have to obey my Enlightenment tendencies and support the idea of an elected second chamber.

    So then the problem is who elects the beggars and how? If it were just the same electorate and system we would presumably get much the same sort of crowd. However suppose the constituencies were along the lines that Boris indicates. But maybe it should be a sort of guild vote. Perhaps we could satrt by dividing the economy up into sections -e.g. transport workers, education workers, artists, scientists, finance workers plus others like pensioners, anyone doing a certain amount of voluntary work a week etc.. A citizen could only choose to be a member of one of the guilds he or she was entitled to join. Each guild elects its representatives.

    The overall elctorates for first and second chamber would overlap greatly. But the constituencies would be those of professional/life interest. Thus a stereotypical university lecturer might be voting Labour or Lib Dem for the first house but for individuals in favour of a more traditional approach to education for the second.

    pace Joe and others perhaps there could be religious constituencies. but if you were an artistic Muslim scientist you could only choose to belong to one of the artists’ guild, the Muslims’ guild or the scientists guild.

    Representatives would be apportioned according to the size of each guild.

    Guild, encompassing all levels in their scopes, would break away form teh narrow interest of – e.g. employees in unions and employers in business organisations, and be encouraged to look after the interests of their scope.

    I would really like to be a Guildmaster and I want red robes and a gold chain please.

  40. Mark,
    re: 3/ The House of Lords. Please stop quibbling. It should be elected, and that’s the end of the matter. A ‘no-brainer’ as we business folk like to say.

    I’ve heard senior corperate business folk say a number of other things too, inter alia:

    “FTP” (F*** the Poor).
    “Audits are for girls”
    “The ends justify the means”
    “If they expected honesty they shouldn’t have offered me the job”

    (these are all true and un-paraphrased quotes by the way)

    In my experience, ‘no-brainers’ are usually the subject noun rather than the object.

    Re the Lords, I don’t see what’s wrong with the current system. Taking ‘bribes’ via circuitous financial instruments is almost certainly illegal in spirit if not law. No doubt these practises will be imminently and permanently stomped on in which case normal service will be resumed.

    I believe there is another popular business aphormism: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”

  41. I see this second chamber thing as a device to keep both a progressive and a conservative tendency going. …I use progressive and conservative in non-perjorative senses.
    (Jack R)

    I agree. It’s checks and balances. It’s a bit like Plato’s chariot drawn by two horses, one wild, the other obedient, or something.

    But if you wish to ensure that the Commons are progressive, and the Lords conservative, then perhaps the solution is for the Commons and Lords elections to be combined, and elected conservatives to go to the Lords, and progressives and radicals to go to the Commons. In this manner one would achieve the required balance.

    But, then, how can you tell if someone is a conservative or a radical? Is there a litmus test? I suppose you could have a questionaire in which candidates are asked a number of questions about ways in which they would like to see Britain change. Anyone who ticks all the ‘No Change’ boxes must be an extreme conservative, and anyone who ticks all the ‘Change’ boxes must be an extreme radical. No?

    Maybe not… Needs more thought. [marks: 3/10]

  42. Thank you raincoaster,
    I watched the “Narnia rap” and my synapses are still shorted and fried as a result.

    The phrases about ‘tea’ will haunt my subconcious forever.

  43. And while we’re on about bands, has anyone seen any musicians or bands before they became famous?

    My one experience of this was at the university Saturday Night Meat Market, which always had some band or other booked. One night I noticed that a rather strange band was playing. They were very loud, and they weren’t playing dance music – although the assembled throng somehow contrived to dance anyway.

    Intrigued, I moved towards the low platform on which they played, and studied them with interest. There were three of them in the band, and the oddest thing about them was that they all played with their eyes shut, the ugly drummer included, completely lost in the thunderous music they were generating. I sat at the feet of the lead guitarist, barely a yard from him, gazing up, and I never saw him open his eyes once. I was the only person in the hall to pay any attention to them.

    About 6 months later they were catapulted to fame. The band’s name was Cream, and I had been sitting at the feet of Eric Clapton, a.k.a. God.

  44. idlex

    I suppose what I’m saying is that most people are progressive on some things and conservative on others. Mrs. Thatcher was extremely progressive on economic stuff and rather conservative socially. You may not believe it but I’m a bloody minded militant at my union meetings thus being rather conservative with a view to looking after my ‘guild’ interests, whereas I tend to have a more progressive view on the state and hence want less of it and so may vote Conservative at the next election.

    It’s not that politicians or voters are progressive or conservative but rather more that we need processes that can get the right tension.

    As to your second point I think I have seen a number of bands who are still waiting to become famous.

  45. I saw the Police before they became famous. They were rubbish too.

    (They did of course improve)

  46. Jack, would I be right in thinking that, for you, ‘progressive’ means removing or relaxing laws, and ‘conservative’ means retaining and strengthening laws?

  47. idlex, I wanted desperately to go see a new band that I’d been hearing much about, but none of my friends would go with me, so I stayed home instead of seeing them in a room the size of my apartment.


    I have new friends now.

    Joe: What fascinates me about the Narnia rap is the fact that it came from CAMBRIDGE for chrissakes. Is Oxford completely without pride? Shocking.

    Back to Boris’ point: I think we wouldn’t mind being governed by the best, but it’s defining the best that’s the sticky bit. Dunno how much experience you’ve had with senior union leaders and chairs of the board, but uh…uh…how to say…uh…well, let’s just say the Peter Principle isn’t dead.

  48. This sounds like a digression (and is a bit long) but I’ll get back to the point shortly.

    I recall an ex-colleague of mine (a research chemist) telling me that, when he used to work at Harwell nuclear research establishment, there was an ‘incident’ involving some nuclear waste. I can’t attest to the veracity (or even scientific plausibility) of this, possibly apocryphal, tale but perhaps PWP can put me right if it’s a load of nonsense.

    Apparently, any radioactive or contaminated material (plutonium dust etc.) used for tests/experiments at Harwell was dispatched to a sealed room and dumped in a barrel of water! Eventually, this barrel would be sealed and sent to Windscale (or whatever they’ve changed the name to this week).

    Anyway, one day, the guys with (whatever the nuclear equivalent of a slop bucket is) holding all junk went into the room in their space-suits and promptly dropped dead (insert musical sting). Anguished cries of ‘radiation leak’ etc. were bandied about and they decided to send in a search team (in ‘better’ space-suits). These guys went in with their Geiger counters and could find no significant radiation emission, except the barrel, and, whilst this was ‘hot’, it wasn’t radioactive enough to account for killing anyone in the time during which the former team were exposed.

    While, the ‘leak team’ were checking for traces of plutonium in the air and various other contaminants, they all dropped dead as well (another musical sting)! The last guy to peg, managed to gasp into his radio:”…Blue neutron flux coming from the barrel, errrrrghhhh….”

    Now, the explanation for this was, allegedly, that nuclear material needs two characteristics in order to go fissile 1) critical mass and 2) critical geometry (for example a flat sheet of a critical mass of plutonium will be radioactive but won’t go critical until its rolled into a sphere). What happened in the barrel was that the plutonium settled out of solution (as described by Stoke’s law) and achieved both critical mass and critical geometry and started it’s chain reaction. This sends out a massive, but temporary, neutron flux killing anything within about 12 feet and also boiling the water. The boiling distributed the nuclear material throughout the water and caused it to fall below the critical geometric threshold for fission.

    Now, I have long suspected that the natural state of humanity is to be divided into two groups: one very small group of powerful and influential individuals and one very large group of everyone else. The defining characteristic of the small group may be wealth, fighting ability, nobility, seniority in the priesthood, being ‘pretty’ etc. etc. etc. but there will be some characteristic or quality which sets them apart from ‘the mass’; In the context of contemporary society, the distinguishing feature appears to be money.

    Periodically the large group (or, rarely, the small group) achieves some sort of critical geometry, or is exposed to some catalyst/external stimulation, and goes fissile, mixes everything up and the two groups (those that survive) become homogenised again. The subsequent period causes the two groups to separate like oil and water and we revert to the two discrete groups over an extended period of time. Our catalysts can include any variety of events: wars, social or political change, economic or technological change, revolution and so on.

    If we extend our nuclear metaphor, it may also model why the ‘small group’ becomes effete and ineffectual over time. The primary exponents of our ‘small group’, generally got there through hard work and talent or similar. Subsequent generations achieve membership purely through an accident of birth and may not be cut from the same cloth. Consequently, the group ‘decays’ and some members are downgraded to the mass over time.

    If we apply the model I’ve hypothesised to life peerages, we see that we are not compromising the dynamics of this system, by purchasing a peerage, because there can be no generational transfer of the peerage (i.e. it is impossible to create a permanently ‘stable’ isotope using this mechanism). This fact (and death duties on inheritance) provides us with a mechanism for decay. It is only the hereditary peerages which potentially cause a problem because the inter-generational transfer of the title is not contingent on one of the ‘qualities’ we spoke of earlier unless we apply some requirement for (perhaps) a minimum bank balance if taking a (and, more importantly, maintaining) seat in the Lords. This potentially provides a new definition for the term ‘Noblesse Oblige’.

    All of which point to the proposition that buying a peerage is a perfectly reasonable thing to do and is, strictly speaking, the proper mechanism if we take a thermodynamic view of ascending to the House of Lords. In fact, if we wish to create a dynamic model which is in equilibrium, these ‘purchase promoted’ Lords must maintain a minimum level of assets or they must be demoted back to the rank and file. Of course, the validity of this hypothesis does rather depend on the the premise that financial wealth is the only measure of a person’s worth as an individual.

    A measure we seem to have recently (and enthusiastically) inherited from our American cousins and applied universally.

  49. idlex

    No. A conservative may well be in the forefront of opposing new legislation because we are rubbing on with what we already have and the new stuff seems unnecessary or even harmful whereas a progressive might see such new legislation as solving some problem that urgently needs addressing. Both may be good, sincere and rational people with different sets of premises.

    A conservative may want new legislation to preserve something. Green belt legislation is one such example. A progressive amy want to remove legislation. For example progressives campaigned against the homosexuality laws.

    So it amounts to being progressive or conservative with respect to a state of society rather than a set of laws.

    In fact it is probably wrong to label individuals as either.

    A person may be conservative with respect to one set of issues and progressive with respect to another. Anne Widdecombe is quite conservative on many issues but progressive on fox hunting – she voted for a ban.

    That is why I suggested that having different constituency arrangements on the same set of electors might produce a progressive leaning first house and a conservative leaning second house.

    Using my own example I tend to being progressive politically in that I have sympathy with the proto-socialism of people like Priestley and perhaps Dickens but I am conservative professionally due to blatant self interest – I need the money – and also a certain conception of how things should be in my line of work.

    I have no research to back this up you understand!

  50. Joe

    I’m not sure I buy your theory wrt. nuclear analogy but it does resonate.

    Back in the good old days we radicals use to talk about people ‘selling out’. The idea was that if we gave up our lofty principles then it would be dead easy to make a pile of loot. This made us feel better about ourselves as we earnestly plotted the overthrow of capitalism and those rich b******ds who had taken the easy option of becoming rich. In my increasingly common moments of self doubt I imagined my small advert in The Thunderer

    ‘Trotskyist wishes to sell out £500,000 ono’

    The Revolution not materialising we trooped off into education and other state jobs mumbling about ‘public service’ and ‘obviously not doing it for the money’. There was still this idea that it was ludicrously easy to make a million. Like the novel inside you, once you turned all your effort to capitalism you may have lost your soul but gained the world.

    People who actually made money especially from humble backgrounds – Freddy Laker springs to mind – were demonised or mocked as being either wicked or stupid in not understanding our sincere intentions.

    Having considered the idea from time to time of trying something different, like starting a business or finding a high paying but insecure job in the private sector I realise that the petit bourgeois in me longed hobbitlike for the comfort zone of a steady job. I think I do an honest days work for my pay (pity it’s not a whole year) but my reasons for not ‘selling out’ are rather more mundane than they used to be.

    On the whole people who do go out and set things up, not just always making money but often so, have qualities which as a society we should value. That is not to say that there are not others such as compassion etc. which are not to the forefront in being an entrepreneur, that we should not also value.

    So maybe your isdea of letting them buy in has merit.

  51. Anne Widdecombe is quite conservative on many issues but progressive on fox hunting – she voted for a ban. (Jack R)

    In respect of fox hunting, I was once all for banning it. That was my gut feeling about it.

    But, over time, I began to examine my reasons for wanting it banned. In the end, I came to think that all I really wanted to do was punish fox hunters, and spoil their fun. The law was spoiling fun for dope-smoking hippies like me, so why not spoil other people’s fun, and show them what it’s like to be discriminated against. That’ll larn ’em, thought I.

    But really, I ended up thinking, this boiled down to tit for tat, an eye for an eye, and it was no way to make laws. Banning fox hunting was really just revenge – banning fun which largely consisted of galloping around, jumping over hedges, often without killing any fox at all (which said foxes would anyway get just as nastily killed by poisoning or shooting). The fox hunting ban was intended to hurt and punish fox hunters, not save foxes.

    So I see nothing ‘progressive’ about banning fox hunting. Just as I see nothing ‘progressive’ about anti-smoking laws which are intended to hurt and punish smokers, not save non-smokers. Both are manifestations of sheer vindictiveness, hidden behind an ever-shifting fog of spurious moral or medical justifications.

  52. I can’t really see much difference between:

    1) Buying a peerage (assuming the price is fixed and available to all parties equally)

    2) Being proposed for a peerage (or even some minor gong or award) as the result of consensus of some unknown quango or cabal on the basis of a set of utterly occult and arbitrary criteria.

    3) Being elected to a peerage by a voting public who demonstrably make their political decisions on the basis of which Prime Minister would be nicest to have around for tea.

    In the latter case and given the propensity of the tabloid press for ‘Building ’em up and tearing ’em down’, I’ve no doubt the upper house would soon be honoured by the presence of Lady Jordon of Bristol and Lord Pete Doherty of Spinny to name but a few.

    Sorry, of the three possibilities, I still think buying them is the fairest and (to use, somewhat semantically innapropriate, contemporary jargon) most transparent.

    I, mean, let’s be perfectly honest ‘donations’, and which school you went to, has determined elevation to the House of Lords for centuries. Although, having compromising photographs of a senior cabinet member or the PM probably helps too.

    So, all things said, I vote for keeping everything pretty much the same (which is my view of what conservative means) and I agree with Jack that the present mechanism and architecture provides an excellent engine for negative feedback into the commons which creates the stable, dynamic equilibrium critical for this system.

  53. idlex

    I too was against the ban on foxhunting being conservative on the issue. I use progressive in the sense that a change has been made to a way of life. Whether it’s good progression is another matter!

    On the other hand laws against racial discrimination were progressive and I think a good move. I don’t hold all subsequent progress on this front as necessarily being good however.

  54. Of course, the validity of this hypothesis does rather depend on the the premise that financial wealth is the only measure of a person’s worth as an individual. A measure we seem to have recently (and enthusiastically) inherited from our American cousins and applied universally. (Joe M)

    Well, yes.

    And the thought of the Lords being full of Alan Sugars and Richard Bransons and Paul MacCartneys is positively chilling. The ability to make pots of money, by fair means or foul, in no way equates with an ability to distinguish good laws from bad ones, any more than it equates with a discerning eye for modern art.

    And yet, in many ways, this is precisely what we have got, and always have had. Buying peerages over the counter simply makes explicit what was always implicit.

  55. idlex

    I think I might take my chances with a competent businessperson rather than an expert on modern art.

  56. If you’re all for buying peerages, Joe, then why not extend the practice to the Commons as well?

    After all, it’s usually the party that spends the most money on advertising their candidate that manages to gull the voters.

    And in many ways, these candidates are offering to bribe the voters with promises of money (in saved income tax, council tax, fuel tax, health care, etc.)

    After every budget, we are always shown how different people are monetarily better or worse off than before.

    So if we measure everything with money, why not sell seats in both the Commons and the Lords to the highest bidders? And make it a free market too, and allow Russian and Saudi oil millionaires, and Colombian drug barons to bid as well?

  57. I think I might take my chances with a competent businessperson rather than an expert on modern art.

    Do you think there is no art to making laws? Is not a piece of legislation a work of art, conceived in a moment of imagination, and carefully sculpted or painted, adjusted and revised, until it takes its final form?

    Might it not be said that much of modern legislation is the product of the Surrealist movement, and could do with a dose of Modernism, or maybe Post-Modernism?

    Perhaps our Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion, might be enlisted to help draft legislation. Making it rhyme properly, maybe.

  58. If you’re all for buying peerages, Joe, then why not extend the practice to the Commons as well? (idlex)

    Well, they more or less, did didn’t they? The money ‘borrowed’ from benefactors (and which caused all the trouble inthe first place) was used for election campaigning.

    I doubt that there is a one to one corelation between money spent on campaign advertising and number of seats won in the house, but I bet it’s factor in a larger and more complex equation.

  59. idlex

    I’m not entirely sure that the proposition that being able to build a successful busines is an indication of problem solving ability is quite the same as measuring everything by money.

    My problem is that much recent legislation looks just as if it has been dreamt up by post-modernists.

    Do Motion’s poems rhyme? I thought rhyming poems were illegal now.


    I’ve just recalled another Harwell story. I think they wanted to check out how various samples reacted to radiation. So they had the radiation in an enclosed space with a hole going in and a hole coming out. To run the test they put the sample on the truck of a Hornby train with the tracks making a neat circuit through in the in hole and out the out hole. Then the train ran around the circuit.

    No expense spared! I love being British! I wonder if the mullahs have got enough train sets!

  60. Do Motion’s poems rhyme?

    I don’t know, and it probably is illegal. But I have composed my own shot at the Road Safety Act, Amendment 237a:

    Anyone with tyres too worn,
    Or hubcaps that have dropped off,
    The following morn,
    At crack of dawn,
    Must have their heads chopped off.

    I think that, in this manner, poetry might take soothe the pain of otherwise draconian laws.

  61. I idiot danced through a Hawkwind concert once. But I preferred Blodwyn Pig, who were on the other stage.

    Melissa – give us a prize and we’ll all shut up about the sounds of the sixties, I promise.

  62. I only saw The Who once at the NEC in the early 80’s. By that time we all had to sit in chairs. You will be amused to hear that yours truly had to be restrained from dancing by bouncers.

  63. ‘Banning fox hunting was really just revenge – banning fun which largely consisted of galloping around, jumping over hedges, often without killing any fox at all (which said foxes would anyway get just as nastily killed by poisoning or shooting). The fox hunting ban was intended to hurt and punish fox hunters, not save foxes’

    Wasn’t this an original 1997 New Labour manifesto pledge? They pledged this to win votes, not amongst the small minority of eco-warriors who probably never vote anyway, but amongst ordinary people.

    Why was there so much support? The green-eyed monster! People who hunt foxes have nicer houses, nicer cars and talk posher than most (or so we believe).

    Personally I’d like to ban ‘Smoked-Salmon Socialism’ and hunt down those that practice this hypocritical belief.

    The hunters would ride on the back of small motorcycles, armed with water bombs.

    Entertainment would take place at the weekends. The Smoked-Salmon Socialists would be identified by ‘spotters’ waiting in Waitrose car parks and other suitable locations, looking for people wearing sandals and carrying bags of ‘fair-trade’ bananas back to their Ford Fiesta’s.

    There would be a closed season from the last week of April to the Third week in September. This would allow the Smoked-Salmon Socialists time to retreat to their holiday villas on the Spanish Costa’s and allow me to play some cricket on a Saturday afternoon during the warmer months, when no-one really minds being hit by a water bomb anyway.

    Just a thought, maybe I should get on with my uni work.

  64. Been away for a while and rather lost track of things Bozzish. So two questions:

    On topic: What did hereditary peers do wrong, apart from being hereditary peers?

    Off topic: What is Gordon going to do when he’s taking 100% of our earnings in tax and is still short of money?

  65. bill murray: “Vicus Scurra – you forget that the MP for Henley is regularly touted as an intellectual. Indeed, the puff for his recent book on Rome makes great play of this. But where is the original scholarly research there? There’s none whatsoever. The only thing that lifts it beyond yet another basic intro to the Romans – its ‘research’ taken from secondary sources – is the tie-in to the EU: and in terms of scholarship that has all the depth of a punt on the Cherwell…”

    Actually I thought that the whole point of the book was to address a modern lack of enthusiasm to the EU by recourse to an historical exemplar. As such no new research is needed.

    Whatever else he can be accused of, Boris has never given himself airs and wears his learning lightly. As it happens I think he’s phenomenally right, but he himself makes no claim to this.

    I can’t really comment on his thesis – I dropped Ancient History for Greats – but I know that he consulted a number of fairly brilliant people when writing the book, and so if all it is is “yet another basic intro to the Romans”, at least it’ll be a pretty accurate and entertaining one.

    I share Boris’ belief that one of the tragedies of the age is the slow death of the classics. While he was at the Spectator he instituted the “Classics Cup” to encourage composition, and in writing this book has introduced God knows how many people to elements of Roman culture and history that they would have remained in ignorance of otherwise. He’s been nothing but good for Classics – I’m sure his example has inspired some to pursue the subject.

    Is he a profound scholar? Well no, but no one can be without devoting a sizeable part of their life to the subject. The last really good classical scholar in the Commons was Robert Jackson, and while a decent scholar he was a crap MP. I don’t think Boris is a lesser man for having failed to address seriously the surviving fragments of the great Greek lyricists.

  66. Sorry, that sounded snide; I didn’t mean it to be. I assume you know, but on the off chance you don’t, and for others’ erudition, “Greats” is the name given to the second part of the classics course at Oxford. It comes from its official title of Literae Humaniores. By and large the course is split in to three areas: Latin and Greek Literature; Ancient History; Ancient and Modern Philosophy. While some people do take papers from all three strands, most focus on two, and until recently that focus was enforced. In case it’s of any interest Boris focused on literature and history. Most people do.

  67. I did know. As far as I can tell, it’s fine to be snide on this blog as long as you do it either amusingly or with such erudition that there’s no chance dumb people have a clue what you’re talking about.

    God, I hope I’m right about that (she says, looking nervously around).

  68. I understand that modern history at Oxford starts with the Roman invasion of the British Isles. Quite right too!

  69. The Dream of Rome gets quite a good review in the Spectator this week from Jasper Griffin. He taught Boris at Oxford, and is frankly a god amongst men.

  70. “and is frankly a god amongst men.”

    as Boris is, frankly, a god amongst women.

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