Does the appearance of corruption in the House of Lords matter? Yes it does, on all sorts of grounds. It sets a terrible, high-rolling example to the fledgling legislators elsewhere, who are not above caring about the odd bob or two in the pubic service (quite legally, of course). Some might come to believe, as Lord Taylor appears to, that the system is there partly to make money and like him, they have ” broken no rules” – yet.
The total allocations to local parties over the eight years involve some £5.2m from the Assembly, £2.5m from the Electoral Commission and £2m from the Commons, producing a grand total of £9.7m.
The old dodge of compensating for paying poor-ish Westminster salaries for several decades by jacking up allowances and tolerating the epidemic of paid lobbying is now revealed as a huge elephant trap into which Parliaments reputation has fallen, just at a very time when the public desperately needs to have confidence in the political system. Cynicism is inevitable if generally undeserved; most peers, like MPs do a good, honourable job of scrutiny, better in the part-reformed Lords than in the Commons these days. But the days of a gentleman’s (ladies not mentioned) word as his bond are well and truly over.
On legal advice, the MSM seem to have thrown sub judice out the window in this case, even though prosecutions cant quite be rule out . So note the contrast between Lord Taylor’s mawkish apology in the Lords yesterday, and the content of the Sunday Times secret tape. I wont weary you with much background. The ex-Labour adviser, green campaigner and now searing Labour critic George Monbiot offers a mordant context. From cash for questions to cash for laws Labours record, is his harsh verdict.
It is fitting and unsurprising that the scene of the new scandal is the unelected second chamber, whose proper reform Blair and Brown have spent 12 years avoiding..
And still they fail to face up to the need for parliamentary reform as a whole, as they proved by all that flip-flopping over FOI disclosures of MPs expenses only last week.
And the direct importance for NI? For the non-abstentionist SDLP, the idea of an unelected SDLP Lord was always one step too far (would Gerry Fitt have taken his seat if hed remained in the party, I wonder?). But a directly elected Upper House is bound to involve all NI parties in at least the election and open a whole new front of activity. Yet despite the new pledges of reforming the Lords rules, I believe the wholesale reform of the Lords to an elected chamber will remain on hold for years.
In the meantime – Baron Adams of Ballymurphy (106) has a certain ring to it, yes?
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London