Joan Bakewell on the Lords

Baroness Bakewell

Joan Bakewell – Baroness Bakewell – writing in this morning’s Daily Telegraph on last week’s recall of the House of Lords:

“And so we flocked home: peers had flown in from Delhi and the US. Even Andrew Lloyd Webber made a brief appearance. I was just back from Italy where news of looting and burning had filtered through to our poolside haven. How serious could it be? The House of Lords had been recalled and I joined a crowded chamber.

Although the House of Commons hogged all the press coverage, there was more measured and thoughtful talk going on in the Lords. For a start, there were few peers who subscribed to the “criminality – pure and simple” mantra. Too many of them had years of experience in the police, in local government and in social agencies of one sort or another to go in for glib generalisations.

The Archbishop of Canterbury set the tone, talking positively of the opportunity the chaos has created for a major rethink of social priorities. Ideas flowed thick and fast at a closed meeting held later in the day. I heard Professor Peter Hennessy quote Michael Heseltine’s report on the Merseyside riots of 1981, which began: “It took a riot.” The tenor of the meeting seemed to be “let us not miss the chance this time round”.

Once again I was impressed by the store of wisdom and judgment that is packed away in the Lords: people there are able to take the long view both backwards – many even older than me – and forwards, looking further than the next election’s chances. The Lords is a kind of Court of Elders where accumulated experience of decades sits waiting to be used. Any reform must ensure that such expertise is not simply blown away to the four winds.”

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About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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11 Responses to Joan Bakewell on the Lords

  1. Frank W. Summers III says:

    Lord Norton,

    Very nice. I also appreciated the A of C’s comments in the Hansard during the recall.
    in the vein of discussing the unrest, I wonder if you saw the current cover of Time magazine:
    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/0,9263,7601110822,00.html
    Part of the irony is the million young people gathered in Madrid who get little media coverage in the US although many including eight of my family members are Americans. Nonetheless the attention and real threats associated witht the crisis are evidence that recalling Lords was a good decision I think….

    • Lord Norton says:

      Frank W. Summers III: I did indeed: I subscribe to Time magazine.

      I thought it was a very useful debate in the House, or rather comments on the Government statement. I presume we will be having a full debate later.

      I think it fair to say that there are a great many significant events that take place in foreign lands that do not get reported in the US media.

      • Frank W. Summers III says:

        Lord Norton,

        I am sure you have not forgotten that I lived in China but I mention it for others. From the time I returned until the closing ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games our DirecTV package included CCTV9 — the English language Chinese network. When it ceased to be available the next day and thereafter I felt a real sense of grief and loss for some time thereafter. Many things go unreported in every land. I would mention for example that I have been on staff at three of the newspapers in greatest importance and proximity of location to my home as well as a radio station. I was honored with a number of significant awards in systems most relevant here. Yet despite your own significance as far as I know there has never been a mention ofour communication over a number of years in public in any local media. That is for many reasons but not the least of which is because the little gossip round-up pieces that are not just about parties and charities do not exist outside a few major cities anymore and the ones in the cities are mostly what we call “dumbed down”. A few lines in a gossip round-up is much more justifiable than an article for many stories of some importance.

        None of this is insignificant. Excellence must come from large programs funded by the governments or by super corporations increasingly are it must be ignored. The exceptions are not really exceptions. If I lived in Britain I would find much to complain about there as well. But our media is undergoing many subtle simultaneous crises whichare never even discussed because nobody seems able to address the large ones which are discussed.

  2. Matt Howard says:

    I don’t mean to be too rude, but the variety of holidaying destinations seems to bely a complete separation between the Lord’s and the public in terms of social attitudes; those who can afford to return early could potentially afford to fly out again, not discounting the fact they were in Delhi or the US in the first place. Does such a lifestyle create in a person the ability to empathise with those who can barely afford to take a weekend break at a cheap sea-side resort? How often do the plights of the poorest have opportunity to impact those who appear to live separate lives?

    It is great to hear members of the Lord’s voicing sympathy, but until the people on the street feel a kindred connection with politics, an empathy that goes deeper than a response to learned soical reality, when will the civil disobedience stop? No doubt many Lords do know what poverty is like, as I think some have ascended from poorer regions to sit in the Lords, but I fear the public don’t know that enough to believe with conviction that democracy has a path for them to travel with their complaints.

    I dont want to be overly cycnical, but I do wonder at the great divide between Westminster and the public, which must even frustrate members of both houses.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Matt Howard: There are members of the House of Lords who certainly do know what it is like to live in poverty – read Lord Donoughue’s memoirs for example – and who know what the difficulty at times of making ends meet. (One member not so long ago was declared brankrupt.) A great many were able to make it for the recall of the House because they were in the UK. I would also point out that where you holiday is not necessarily an indication of how much you have paid for your holiday – I am amazed by how cheap some foreign holidays are. I could holiday in southern Europe for less than it would cost me to holiday in, say, Edinburgh – not that I plan to holiday anyway.

      I would also encourage you read the discussion in the Lords on the riots. You will realise how familiar some of the members were with the problems.

      • Matt Howard says:

        Yes. Easyjet often advertise 1p flights! However as far as Dehli? I’m not so sure.

        Yet the fact a great many are appointed a peerage based on massive donations to political parties may suggest a less than noble reason for their entrance to the upper chamber. I respect the comments made by the Archbishop and the need to understand the reasons behind the riots violence, but would the fact they happened demonstrate a sizable portion of the public feel their views are not represented clearly enough, and feel their only means of protest is rioting?

        When I worked at Waitrose (*confession) we were told a single complaint from a customer could actually be weighted as the equivalent of ten customers, since the disgruntled customer would tell their friends of the bad experience and perhaps discourage them from shopping with us. Would the sheer number of arrests imply a far greater disenchantment than previously thought, and a great divide, however unfair it may seem, between the public and the Commons/Lords?

      • Lord Norton says:

        Matt Howard: “Yet the fact a great many are appointed a peerage based on massive donations..”

        How many is a “great many”?

  3. Frank W. Summers III says:

    Matt Howard,

    Perhaps the reform you should be encouraging Lord Norton to consider is to move from the current system to one with the Houses of Commons as the Upper House and the reformed House as the House of the More-Common-than-Thou or Paragons of the Mundane. The same people could be kept in at first as a kind of revenge and punishment but be made to wear coveralls and large name tags and to cover the seat upholstery with advertising for video games and popular sweets. This moght be just the catharsis the UK needs, who can say…

  4. Matt Howard says:

    Frank W. Summers III: I am not advocating a dumbing down of the Lords! However, I would imagine that all the gold on the Queen’s throne in the Lord’s is too much bling for Her Majesty’s tastes.

    Lord Norton: After some initial research the following made significant donations to political parties either prior to or after receiving peerages:

    Lord Sainsbury (£13million), Lord Popat (£200,000), Lord Edmiston (£2million), Lord Michael Bishop, Lord Fink (£2million+), Lord Feldman (£50,000+ and former fundraiser), Lord Noon (£700,000+), Lord Drayson (£600,000+), Lord Sugar (£750,000), Lord Kirkham (£115,000 and £4million interest-free loan), Lord Harris (£1.4million), Lord Leach (£30,500), Lord Wolfson (£313,250), Lord Marland, party treasurer (£154,000), Lord Iltaf Sheikh, Conservative Muslim Forum (£37,501), Lord James (£18,550), Lord Laidlaw (former) (£3million), Lord Hameed (company, Alpha Hospitals, donated £400,000), Lord Strasburger (£765,000)

    I should probably add that the donations do not necessarily imply the peerages were payment in kind, but it certainly does raise an eyebrow. Also there were a lot of Peers who appeared during research who legitimately ‘earned’ their place, so I concede on that point.

    • Frank W. Summers III says:

      Matt Howard,

      Indeed my remarks were rather flippant and not paticularly fair. However, while I seldom holiday abroad I have spent many holidays abroad in my travels and unlike me the typical Peer has more comprehensible sort of life. I think that travel by the Lords is really one of the more useful, socially responsible and helpful things that any group of people do for their country and society. Contacting the odd run of foreigners like myself who actually do find ourselves sharing the same planet with the lovely British common man…

    • Lord Norton says:

      Matt Howard: One of those in on leave of absence. There are 789 members of the House (not including those excluded and on leave of absence). So, as a percentage of the total membership…..

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