National newspapers of the left, right and centre were united in their disgust at the latest crop of appointees to the House of Lords.
The news page headlines were anything but neutral: “The honours that shame Britain” (Independent); “Lordicrous!” (The Sun); “Chamber of horrors” (Daily Mirror); “Cameron’s ‘cronies’ rewarded with peerages” (Daily Telegraph); “Seats in Lords for expenses cheat, donor and string of Tory cronies” (Daily Mail) and “Downton Dave under fire for using honours to tip the staff” (The Times).
The front page of the Mirror “Arise Lord Moat” was echoed by the “impartial” Metro’s front page: “Lord Moat and Lady Knickers”. (Fyi, Moat refers to former Tory MP, Douglas Hogg, who claimed expenses for having his moat cleaned, while Knickers is Michelle Mone, founder of the Ultimo bra company).
With news reports so heavily laced with criticism and scorn, editorials were hardly necessary. But editors were determined to give both barrels to prime minister David Cameron while taking pot-shots at former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg).
Leader writers clearly enjoyed themselves. The Mail (in a comment headlined “House of has-beens”) was scathing:
“What a shower!… The 26 Tories and 19 others who join the overcrowded Lords are the usual crowd of has-beens, drawn from the political class and its hangers-on…
When will ministers accept that the bloated Upper House has become a laughing stock, and the rest of the honours system a sleazy lucky dip of baubles for cronies and dodgy donors?”
The Mirror (“Peerless case for Lords axe”) agreed:
“In elevating Tory donors, playthings, has-beens, never-weres, ballot failures and assorted rejects – including the MP forced to quit because he charged us to clean his moat – the hubristic prime minister unintentionally sealed the case for abolishing the House of Cronies…
We now see how Cameron country is a Ruritanian land of prizes for mates, £300-a-day jobs for life for Dave’s Tories.”
The Sun (“Lesser lords”) had a similar opinion:
“Once the Upper House was filled with dotty baronets who only turned up because the Lords served a decent claret. Not exactly democracy at its finest but at least they amused the tourists.
Now the Lords is about political placemen rewarded for their loyalty to a party leader. Or brown-nosing, as it is known outside Westminster. What a depressing advert for Britain.”
And the Daily Express (“Fair spread in the Lords”) weighed in to berate the three main Westminster parties for ennobling “cronies, donors and scandal-ridden former MPs.”
But the paper had a particular beef on behalf of its owner, Ukip donor Richard Desmond:
“It is absurd that Ukip were not given a single peer. The party polled almost four million votes at the general election and won the European elections the year before…
The composition of the House of Lords needs to fairly represent parties across the board by reflecting the political allegiances of the populace. Yesterday those in charge missed a chance to make this happen.”
The Telegraph showed some sympathy for Ukip too but concentrated its fire on the Lib Dems, which got 11 peerages, “three more than their total number of MPs” and taking the party’s representation in the Lords to 112:
“This comes a few months after their humiliating defeat at the ballot box. By contrast, Ukip, which did much better in May, gained no new peers at all. The contradiction is deeply unfair.
It also betrays hypocrisy. The Lib Dems have long championed the cause of constitutional reform… yet at the very moment when the Lords does genuinely appear bloated, it is their party that adds to the problem.”
The Guardian (“Government of the club, by the club, for the club”) contended that Cameron, in “packing the red benches with cronies… is revealed as a shameless practitioner of the tawdry old art of government by patronage.”
It railed against the naked abuse of prime ministerial power, which “betrayed contempt for the public” while deriding “the political class [that] looks after its own.”
Once again, the Guardian argued that “the British people should, as a matter of principle, be free to choose all those who legislate in their name, a responsibility that citizens of mature democracies elsewhere shoulder perfectly well.”
It went on to call for “modest” reforms, such as party balance, representation for parties that attracted election support, a reduction in “the grotesque size of the chamber” and “a quality check” on membership.
Finally, I must commend the Mail’s Quentin Letts for his polemic. His attack on the “mixture of time-servers, leaders’ mates [and] downright dregs” was wonderful stuff.
Among his targets were Michelle Mone (“a laughable vulgarian”); Labour’s Dave Watts (a “leery drongo”); Anne McIntosh, former Tory MP for Thirsk & Malton “who so impressed her local constituency party that it dumped her”; former party official Emma Pidding (“a busy-bee activist whose orangey lipstick has long been an annual wonder on stage at Tory party conferences”). He concluded:
“You do not have to be ancient to remember a time when the House of Lords – site of The Throne in Parliament, for heaven’s sake – was respected, if not quite revered.
Today it looks like the Upper Chamber of a decayed, decadent Ruritania. The sooner it is abandoned, the better.”
So it’s doubtful that we will ever hear “Arise Lord Letts”.