Outside the marginals

a commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010 & 2015 elections

Buying your Lords Seat

The appointment of new Lords today has provoked significant criticism (see for instance, Electoral Reform Society, BBC Have Your Say). Much of the criticism has focused on the appointment of superannuated party hacks and party donors.

Whilst totally agreeing that we should not see party hacks (as in failed or frustrated politicians or party apparatchiks) being appointed to the House of Lords, I think we need to be a bit more nuanced about donors.

One of the many problems facing political parties is disengagement. This means that parties are becoming more reliant on big donors. We should be seeking to encourage normal donors and therefore we should be careful before condemning all party donors who get appointed to the House of Lords.

The question is what sort of level of donation is (or should be) normal, and what sort of multiple of a normal donation is acceptable before it looks like undue influence?

Name Donated personally Donated through proxies Total Party Previous political position
Michael Farmer 6,550,908 6,250 6,557,158 Con Y
Rabinder Singh Suri 129,380 183,055 312,435 Con N
Gail Rebuck 2,000 31,250 33,250 Lab N
Barbara Janke 5,498 5,498 LibD Y
Michael Cashman 2,500 2,500 Lab Y
Paul Scriven 2,000 2,000 LibD Y
Martin Callanan Con Y
Carlyn Chisholm Con Y
Andrew Cooper Con Y
Natalie Evans Con Y
Arminka Helic Con Y
Nosheena Mobarik Con Y
Karren Brady Con N
Dido Harding Con N
Stuart Rose Con N
Joanna Shields Con N
Chris Lennie Lab Y
Chris Fox LibD Y
David Goddard LibD Y
Kath Pinnock LibD Y
Julie Smith LibD Y
William Hay DUP Y
£6,692,286 £220,555 £6,912,841 16/22

Source: Electoral Commission adapted from as posted on Electoral Reform Society Blog

I guess “normal” boils down to two main factors:

  1. The donation as a percentage of the median income (some sort of reasonableness test)
  2. The donation as a percentage of the receiving party’s income (some sort of dependency test).

In addition there is one other factor

  • The donation as a percentage of the donor’s income (how much it hurts the donor)
    • A big donation as a low percentage indicates almost casual buying of influence – most distasteful.
    • A large donation as a large percentage indicates a desire to be influential (or possibly rabid support) – also rather distasteful.

We need to ensure that making normal donations is socially acceptable – parties mass funded by normal donations has to be a better solution that taxpayer funding.

Parties need to cut their spending, cut unnecessary advertising, and cut swish election budgets. They should go back to the style of campaigning in the 1960s when candidates campaigned face to face with public debate of issues instead of “projecting their prospective presidents” with expensive leaders tours and “photo-opportunities”. New (low) donation and spending limits should be strictly applied with criminal sanctions against donors, party officials, candidates and agents who breach them.

But we need to be careful not to stigmatise all political donating.

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2 thoughts on “Buying your Lords Seat

  1. Peter on said:

    I always considered it rather odd that the house of lords, of which one of it’s main purposes is to regulate the actions of members of political parties in the commons, is itself based on political parties.

    With no apparent upper limit on numbers, then it seems a constant battle by successive PMs to load the lords with people who are going to support them. With this in mind the lords seems to have no real purpose at all.

    Perhaps the lords would be better off being manned by random people, in the same way as juries are.

  2. We have possibly got to the stage where the hereditary peers are more random than the appointed peers, because with the passing of the generations the chances of a fourth or fifth generation peer having the same views as the original peer is not certain.

    The Lords itself should serve a purpose giving legislation a bit more scrutiny than the Commons and where necessary throwing a spanner in the works.

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