Each individual in the new list of Liberal Democrat peers (see below) is a worthy addition to the House of Lords. However, just as I’ve often argued for Parliamentary selections, you can’t just judge each person on their own – they are also part of a wider team, and the makeup of the overall team matters too.
On which note, the following points come to mind:
1. It’s right for Lib Dems to say yes to getting more peers
Liberal Democrats don’t believe in an unelected House of Lords, nor do we believe in the first past the post system, nor in the highly centralised system that strips local government still of so much power. Yet just as we contest council elections and Parliamentary elections, it makes sense also to take part in the Lords in order to maximise our political impact. And indeed, look back at impact of boycotts of Lords appointments: what have they achieved? So little as to barely ever attract even a mention.
2. Trouble ahead for the Lords – and that’s good
More Liberal Democrat peers willing to vote down government business certainly threatens the current way the Lords work. While the deeply conservative elements of other parties, and indeed Parliamentary staff, look at this with horror, Liberal Democrats (and anyone wanting Lords reform) should welcome this – if the presence and behaviour of Liberal Democrat peers causes others to decide the system has to change, that’s good. We do too.
3. The limits to Clegg’s support for diversity
The list shows the limitations of Nick Clegg’s commitment to improving the party’s diversity. In itself, the list isn’t bad – nearly equal in terms of gender, slightly under the national average for ethnic diversity and better than the national average on sexual diversity. But it’s a list of names to be added to an overall Parliamentary team that’s a long way off being good on diversity. A leader with a stronger commitment to diversity would have done more. Instead, the list reflects Nick Clegg’s general attitude towards diversity throughout his leadership – supportive right up until the point a controversial decision would come next and then stopping just short of taking that. To have excluded any of the straight white men who have got peerages would have been, in their different ways, highly controversial with different groups – and so Clegg went so far but no further.
4. Ming Campbell is a special case
However, Ming Campbell was appointed as an ex-leader, as would have Charles Kennedy been had he lived and wished to be ennobled. So had Ming not been offered and accepted a peerage, there wouldn’t have been the option to appoint someone else instead.
5. Jonny Oates: the Lib Dem Steve Redgrave
Jonny Oates, as a long-time Special Advisor to Nick Clegg, has attracted some of the army of raised eyebrows over the new peerages. Two points factor into why I’m glad he’s been appointed.
First, he adds to the Lords group on diversity (he’s out), and second he has a unique* record in the party as a winning general election agent / campaign manager, having done the role in three different constituencies (two gains, one hold). Others, such as party campaign officers, have roamed over multiple winning constituency campaigns or by-election victories, but Jonny is, I think, the only person to have done the full constituency commitment successfully three times in three different seats.**
When it comes to winning more times that ones, Jonny Oates is the Steve Redgrave of the Lib Dems .
6. David Laws was blocked
The stories about David Laws being nominated for a peerage but blocked by the Appointments Commission over his expenses record are correct.
7. Shas Sheehan – the one imaginative appointment
The one ‘imaginative’ appointment is that of Shas Sheehan, who was born in Lahore and has an academic background in environmental technology, was head of office for Susan Kramer and has been a councillor and Assistant Cabinet Member in Richmond.
Those Lib Dem members who are meant to be scratching their heads over her appointment really needn’t scratch very hard: competent, female, BME Lib Dem with strong green credentials, a long-term commitment to the party and a good professional record. What’s to wonder about why she’s now a peer?
As for the Lib Dem quoted in that story who is meant to have said that her appointment is “odious” and makes them “ashamed” to be associated with the Lib Dems – well if I knew who you were, I’m pretty sure I’d be ashamed to find I’m associated with you. If you really think appointments should go on the basis of counting up years in elected office, welcome to the world of old-fashioned establishment thinking which the Liberal Democrats should be fighting against, not recoiling in horror from diversions from.
8. The other honours: oh dear
As for the collections of other honours handed out to Liberal Democrats: oh dear.
Again many worthy individuals, and some I’m very pleased to see, but this is a case where more imagination rather than simply gongs for doing your job really should be applied, and the weird imbalance between men recognised and women not for doing their work over the last few years is a very poor footnote to Clegg’s record on diversity (something on which Jo Swinson makes a very good point).
It’s good that Tim Farron has got off to a rather better start so far.
The new Lib Dem peers
- Alan Beith, former MP
- Sharon Bowles, former MEP
- Malcolm Bruce, former MP
- Lorely Burt, former MP
- Ming Campbell, former MP
- Lynne Featherstone, former MP
- Don Foster, former MP
- Jonny Oates
- Shas Sheehan
- Andrew Stunell, former MP
- Dorothy Thornhill, Mayor of Watford
The other Liberal Democrat honours
- Dames/Knighthoods***: Danny Alexander, Annette Brooke, Vince Cable, Phillipa Harris, Anthony Ullman (and if you are going to insist on listing Dames and Knights separately, it’d be nice to put the Dames first as d comes before k in the alphabet – otherwise it risks looking like they’re being treated as second class)
- CBE: Duncan Greenland, Ian Wright
- OBE: Richard Duncalf, Matthew Hanney, Hilary Stephenson, Ben Williams
- MBE: Margaret Binks, Shaffaq Mohammed, Andy Sangar, Ian Sherwood
* I think. I can’t think of anyone else who has managed three. Do correct me if I’m wrong. It’d be lovely to know if there is anyone else who has achieved such a remarkable record.
** This record also makes for a good test about whether critics of Clegg’s choice of advisors in Coalition know what they’re talking about or not. Given Jonny’s record, if someone attacks Clegg for having appointed a team without any real campaigning experience and doesn’t even mention a caveat about Jonny Oates, you know that they don’t really know what the background of his team was.
*** First time I wrote this I followed the usual and very widespread habit of putting Knights first. Which prompts the question Why doesn’t the alphabet apply to Knights and Dames?