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Shami Chakrabarti’s peerage underlines the problem with the House of Lords

A non-party political nomination process could still nominate her – but on more transparent grounds.

Shami Chakrabarti should be an excellent addition to the Lords. She is a hugely respected civil liberties campaigner, a barrister and a remarkable public speaker. She has been instrumental in  combating the authoritarian tendencies of several governments. She no doubt would continue to do so as a peer. 

But her ascendancy to the gilded chambers is now tarnished. Chakrabarti was nominated by Labour soon after she chaired an inquiry into anti-Semitism in the party. Her report was not uncritical of Labour - indeed she made a detailed series of recommendations to improve the culture in the party. But she did conclude that Labour was not "overrun" with anti-Semitism, a line seized on by the leadership.  

The fact she has been nominated so soon after this event has been criticised by none other than Tom Watson, the deputy leader of the Labour party. He told BBC Radio 4: "Shami Chakrabarti is precisely the kind of person you would want in the House of Lords. She's a very highly-regarded human rights lawyer and we need her there."

But he said he had not been consulted on the nomination, and added: "The timing is not great for the Labour party. 

"I do think it's a mistake because I don't agree with resignation honours. I think Labour should be very clear that this is a discretionary power that should be removed from outgoing prime ministers."

Watson's comments have proved to be more ammunition for Corbyn's critics. But he makes a valid point about peerages - and indeed the House of Lords itself.

Under resignation honours rules, an outgoing prime minister can nominate any number of people to receive peerages or other honours. The opposition can nominate people too. 

This is a reminder of Lords' disconnect with real life. It's hard to imagine another place of employment where the boss who has been forced to resign gets to line up a series of cronies to keep his or her legacy alive. In fact, it's so jarring that Tony Blair felt obliged to avoid it, and Gordon Brown did it as quietly as he could. 

Nevertheless, so long as the Lords continues to play an active role in legislation, parties cannot ignore the opportunity to stuff the house full with their nearest and dearest. In less than a year of becoming PM, David Cameron created 117 new peers - prompting a group of existing Lords to write a pamphlet entitled "House Full". 

Reforming the House of Lords is a slow and often frustrating process - just ask Nick Clegg. But the halfway house reform New Labour achieved isn't enough. Yes, it got rid of dribbling hereditary earls, but they have too often been replaced by party loyalists instead. However much we cheered the Torie' defeat on tax credits, the then-Chancellor George Osborne's complaint that his defeat was down to "unelected Labour and Lib Dem lords" has a ring of truth to it. 

Wouldn't it be better if we could say tax credits were blocked by fine and upstanding citizens,  men and women who were chosen primarily for their contribution to society? Chakrabarti could still be among them, as could the anti-racism campaigner Doreen Lawrence, and many more campaigners, entrepreneurs and public servants. But it would be clear beyond doubt they had been nominated for these achievements - and not their political loyalties.

There is already a body to recommend individuals for appoinment as non-party-political life peers - the House of Lords Appointments Commission. There are also many ideas that have fallen by the wayside, such as elections for a single, long, term as a peer. Many would-be reformers have recognised the need for a check on the Commons that is not distracted by elections every five years.

Both Jeremy Corbyn and his rival Owen Smith have backed a reformed House of Lords. Focusing on an individual nomination divides the party. Coming up with a coherent strategy for a more respected legislative body could unite it. 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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Leaving the cleaning to someone else makes you happier? Men have known that for centuries

Research says avoiding housework is good for wellbeing, but women have rarely had the option.

If you want to be happy, there is apparently a trick: offload the shitwork onto somebody else. Hire cleaner. Get your groceries delivered. Have someone else launder your sheets. These are the findings published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, but it’s also been the foundation of our economy since before we had economics. Who does the offloading? Men. Who does the shitwork? Women.

Over the last 40 years, female employment has risen to almost match the male rate, but inside the home, labour sticks stubbornly to old patterns: men self-report doing eight hours of housework a week, while women slog away for 13. When it comes to caring for family members, the difference is even more stark: men do ten hours, and women 23.

For your average heterosexual couple with kids, that means women spend 18 extra hours every week going to the shops, doing the laundry, laying out uniform, doing the school run, loading dishwashers, organising doctors' appointments, going to baby groups, picking things up, cooking meals, applying for tax credits, checking in on elderly parents, scrubbing pots, washing floors, combing out nits, dusting, folding laundry, etcetera etcetera et-tedious-cetera.

Split down the middle, that’s nine hours of unpaid work that men just sit back and let women take on. It’s not that men don’t need to eat, or that they don’t feel the cold cringe of horror when bare foot meets dropped food on a sticky kitchen floor. As Katrine Marçal pointed out in Who Cooked Adam Smiths Dinner?, men’s participation in the labour market has always relied on a woman in the background to service his needs. As far as the majority of men are concerned, domestic work is Someone Else’s Problem.

And though one of the study authors expressed surprise at how few people spend their money on time-saving services given the substantial effect on happiness, it surely isn’t that mysterious. The male half of the population has the option to recruit a wife or girlfriend who’ll do all this for free, while the female half faces harsh judgement for bringing cover in. Got a cleaner? Shouldn’t you be doing it yourself rather than outsourcing it to another woman? The fact that men have even more definitively shrugged off the housework gets little notice. Dirt apparently belongs to girls.

From infancy up, chores are coded pink. Looking on the Toys “R” Us website, I see you can buy a Disney Princess My First Kitchen (fuchsia, of course), which is one in the eye for royal privilege. Suck it up, Snow White: you don’t get out of the housekeeping just because your prince has come. Shop the blue aisle and you’ll find the Just Like Home Workshop Deluxe Carry Case Workbench – and this, precisely, is the difference between masculine and feminine work. Masculine work is productive: it makes something, and that something is valuable. Feminine work is reproductive: a cleaned toilet doesn’t stay clean, the used plates stack up in the sink.

The worst part of this con is that women are presumed to take on the shitwork because we want to. Because our natures dictate that there is a satisfaction in wiping an arse with a woman’s hand that men could never feel and money could never match. That fiction is used to justify not only women picking up the slack at home, but also employers paying less for what is seen as traditional “women’s work” – the caring, cleaning roles.

It took a six-year legal battle to secure compensation for the women Birmingham council underpaid for care work over decades. “Don’t get me wrong, the men do work hard, but we did work hard,” said one of the women who brought the action. “And I couldn’t see a lot of them doing what we do. Would they empty a commode, wash somebody down covered in mess, go into a house full of maggots and clean it up? But I’ll tell you what, I would have gone and done a dustman’s job for the day.”

If women are paid less, they’re more financially dependent on the men they live with. If you’re financially dependent, you can’t walk out over your unfair housework burden. No wonder the settlement of shitwork has been so hard to budge. The dream, of course, is that one day men will sack up and start to look after themselves and their own children. Till then, of course women should buy happiness if they can. There’s no guilt in hiring a cleaner – housework is work, so why shouldn’t someone get paid for it? One proviso: every week, spend just a little of the time you’ve purchased plotting how you’ll overthrow patriarchy for good.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.