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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 editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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Brexit is teaching the UK that it needs immigrants

Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past.

Why did the UK vote to leave the EU? For conservatives, Brexit was about regaining parliamentary sovereignty. For socialists it was about escaping the single market. For still more it was a chance to punish David Cameron and George Osborne. But supreme among the causes was the desire to reduce immigration.

For years, as the government repeatedly missed its target to limit net migration to "tens of thousands", the EU provided a convenient scapegoat. The free movement of people allegedly made this ambition unachievable (even as non-European migration oustripped that from the continent). When Cameron, the author of the target, was later forced to argue that the price of leaving the EU was nevertheless too great, voters were unsurprisingly unconvinced.

But though the Leave campaign vowed to gain "control" of immigration, it was careful never to set a formal target. As many of its senior figures knew, reducing net migration to "tens of thousands" a year would come at an economic price (immigrants make a net fiscal contribution of £7bn a year). An OBR study found that with zero net migration, public sector debt would rise to 145 per cent of GDP by 2062-63, while with high net migration it would fall to 73 per cent. For the UK, with its poor productivity and sub-par infrastructure, immigration has long been an economic boon. 

When Theresa May became Prime Minister, some cabinet members hoped that she would abolish the net migration target in a "Nixon goes to China" moment. But rather than retreating, the former Home Secretary doubled down. She regards the target as essential on both political and policy grounds (and has rejected pleas to exempt foreign students). But though the same goal endures, Brexit is forcing ministers to reveal a rarely spoken truth: Britain needs immigrants.

Those who boasted during the referendum of their desire to reduce the number of newcomers have been forced to qualify their remarks. On last night's Question Time, Brexit secretary David Davis conceded that immigration woud not invariably fall following Brexit. "I cannot imagine that the policy will be anything other than that which is in the national interest, which means that from time to time we’ll need more, from time to time we’ll need less migrants."

Though Davis insisted that the government would eventually meet its "tens of thousands" target (while sounding rather unconvinced), he added: "The simple truth is that we have to manage this problem. You’ve got industry dependent on migrants. You’ve got social welfare, the national health service. You have to make sure they continue to work."

As my colleague Julia Rampen has charted, Davis's colleagues have inserted similar caveats. Andrea Leadsom, the Environment Secretary, who warned during the referendum that EU immigration could “overwhelm” Britain, has told farmers that she recognises “how important seasonal labour from the EU is to the everyday running of your businesses”. Others, such as the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, the Business Secretary, Greg Clark, and the Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, have issued similar guarantees to employers. Brexit is fuelling immigration nimbyism: “Fewer migrants, please, but not in my sector.”

The UK’s vote to leave the EU – and May’s decision to pursue a "hard Brexit" – has deprived the government of a convenient alibi for high immigration. Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past. Brexit may have been caused by the supposed costs of immigration but it is becoming an education in its benefits.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.