I'm still a revolutionary socialist. My peerage simply reflects my desire to be at the vanguard of social change

I was deeply moved by Melvyn Bragg's account of his first year as Lord Bragg, published in this week's Observer. In fact, I happened to run into him at the launch party for a journalist who has written a slightly disappointing memoir about his experiences after suffering an atrocious accident.

"Congratulations, Mr Bragg," I said.

"Lord Bragg," he replied.

It took a moment for the joke to click, but then I saw the characteristic Cumbrian twinkle in his eye as he turned away.

"You almost got me there," I said, laughing, and as if in response he gave a satiric tip of the back of his head from halfway across the room.

The article had particular significance for me - I might even call it resonance - because it strongly reflected my own experiences in the time since I was myself awarded what I like to call a New Peerage. There's no disguising that this offer, while a simply fantastic honour and a very gracious acknowledgment of my efforts on behalf of the Project, occasioned no small crisis of conscience. Fact number one: I'm a revolutionary socialist, always have been, always will be. Fact number two: a few years ago I wrote a celebrated (or notorious) column in which I made ten pledges to the struggle. The first of which was: I vow that if I ever have anything to do with the British honours system, I will be disembowelled - have my private parts cut off and inserted in my mouth, I will be drowned in a vat of excrement and then my body will be fed to swine.

Obviously I hadn't meant this literally. And in any case, by "British honours system" I had meant the bloody Thatcherite honours system, not the new reformed honours system acting as the vanguard of social change.

Not everybody sees it this way. My daughter came back from Cheltenham Ladies' College just to tell me that I was a reactionary sell-out. I tried to explain that I had been too young for the Jarrow March, the Spanish Civil War, les evennements. (NB to New Statesman: check spelling and accents on that last one; and does somebody in the office know the Spanish for Spanish Civil War?) This was my chance finally to be on the front line. I also had a sustained and bitter argument with my wife, the separatist feminist, activist, Greenham Common protester, now known as The Lady French (people always leave the "the" out, however much you tell them; it's probably their rather childish way of making a point).

To be quite honest, there was a bit of me that felt a small glow of pride. Who would have thought all those years ago, when I was being driven around the streets of Hampstead clutching one of those sherbet fountains with a bit of liquorice sticking out of the middle, that one day I would be wearing ermine and rewriting laws passed by parliament and even stopping them altogether if I really wanted to. It's amazing. Humbling even.

Needless to say I've only joined this institution the better to blow it to bits, to demolish it, raze it to the ground, smash up all the pieces into smaller pieces and plough them into the soil, and then grind up the soil as well. But in the meantime we need to make this place work and I've been pleasantly surprised by the - not to put too fine a point on it - sheer bloody quality of the debates on what has been called with good reason the Upper House.

Clearly nobody could say anything in defence of hereditary peers except that they bring a touch of much-needed colour to the political process and a feeling for tradition and generations of experience and wisdom. Dull would he be of soul who would not feel a stirring in the breast at the very names and titles of these great families. While my own ancestors were lying drunkenly in some forgotten ditch, these people's great-grandfathers and -mothers were having sex with kings or giving them money.

But the reforming lifeblood of the "other place" resides in its working peers, people who are very old or have lots of money or own companies from all walks of life. Over the past months I have been literally stunned by contributions from my lords Saatchi, Lloyd-Webber and other seminal figures.

The mockers will mock and the sneerers sneer, but together we are revitalising old traditions. When the traditional obeisances are observed, when I get a better table in a restaurant, when a knee is bent to my consort, when my coat of arms is displayed (a potato on a sofa couchant), deference is being shown not to a clapped-out old system but to the onward march of socialism.

This article first appeared in the 18 October 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Will Peter secure peace in Ireland?