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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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Daniel Hannan harks back to the days of empire - the Angevin Empire

Did the benign rule of some 12th century English kings make western France vote Macron over Le Pen?

I know a fair amount about British politics; I know a passable amount about American politics, too. But, as with so many of my fellow Britons, in the world beyond that, I’m lost.

So how are we, the monolingual Anglophone opinionators of the world, meant to interpret a presidential election in a country where everyone is rude enough to conduct all their politics in French?

Luckily, here’s Daniel Hannan to help us:

I suppose we always knew Dan still got a bit misty eyed at the notion of the empire. I just always thought it was the British Empire, not the Angevin one, that tugged his heartstrings so.

So what exactly are we to make of this po-faced, historically illiterate, geographically illiterate, quite fantastically stupid, most Hannan-y Hannan tweet of all time?

One possibility is that this was meant as a serious observation. Dan is genuinely saying that the parts of western France ruled by Henry II and sons in the 12th century – Brittany, Normandy, Anjou, Poitou, Aquitaine – remain more moderate than those to the east, which were never graced with the touch of English greatness. This, he is suggesting, is why they generally voted for Emmanuel Macron over Marine Le Pen.

There are a number of problems with this theory. The first is that it’s bollocks. Western France was never part of England – it remained, indeed, a part of a weakened kingdom of France. In some ways it would be more accurate to say that what really happened in 1154 was that some mid-ranking French nobles happened to inherit the English Crown.

Even if you buy the idea that England is the source of all ancient liberties (no), western France is unlikely to share its political culture, because it was never a part of the same polity: the two lands just happened to share a landlord for a while.

As it happens, they didn’t even share it for very long. By 1215, Henry’s youngest son John had done a pretty good job of losing all his territories in France, so that was the end of the Angevins. The English crown reconquered  various bits of France over the next couple of centuries, but, as you may have noticed, it hasn’t been much of a force there for some time now.

At any rate: while I know very little of French politics, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess the similarities between yesterday's electoral map and the Angevin Empire were a coincidence. I'm fairly confident that there have been other factors which have probably done more to shape the French political map than a personal empire that survived for the length of one not particularly long human life time 800 years ago. Some wars. Industrialisation. The odd revolution. You know the sort of thing.

If Daniel Hannan sucks at history, though, he also sucks at geography, since chunks of territory which owed fealty to the English crown actually voted Le Pen. These include western Normandy; they also include Calais, which remained English territory for much longer than any other part of France. This seems rather to knacker Hannan’s thesis.

So: that’s one possibility, that all this was an attempt to make serious point; but, Hannan being Hannan, it just happened to be a quite fantastically stupid one.

The other possibility is that he’s taking the piss. It’s genuinely difficult to know.

Either way, he instantly deleted the tweet. Because he realised we didn’t get the joke? Because he got two words the wrong way round? Because he realised he didn’t know where Calais was?

We’ll never know for sure. I’d ask him but, y’know, blocked.

UPDATE: Breaking news from the frontline of the internet: 

It. Was. A. Joke.

My god. He jokes. He makes light. He has a sense of fun.

This changes everything. I need to rethink my entire world view. What if... what if I've been wrong, all this time? What if Daniel Hannan is in fact one of the great, unappreciated comic voices of our time? What if I'm simply not in on the joke?

What if... what if Brexit is actually... good?

Daniel, if you're reading this – and let's be honest, you are definitely reading this – I am so sorry. I've been misunderstanding you all this time.

I owe you a pint (568.26 millilitres).

Serious offer, by the way.

 

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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