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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. 

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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