Patronage has no place in today’s politics

The coalition government is to bestow more than 100 new Tory/Lib Dem peerages, at a cost of roughly

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The Times reports today that the coalition government is to bestow more than 100 peerages, to make the House of Lords "reflective of the vote".

At present, the House is dominated by Labour peers, none of whom can be removed. Having more supporters in the upper chamber will make it easier for the new government to pass controversial legislation.

There are two main points here.

First is the Lib Dems' long-held commitment to political reform. The Times quotes a Liberal Democrat peer:

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, a Lib Dem peer, said: "The coalition agreement entitles us to at least 50 more new Lib Dem peers to reflect our share of the vote on 6 May. This is a key part of the coalition package for Liberal Democrats and a real test of our new government's good faith."

Hang on. A key part of the coalition package? Isn't the party opposed to the undemocratic nature of the House of Lords? Indeed, the Liberal Democrat website says:

We will reform the House of Lords and replace it with an elected second chamber.

In theory, the flush of new lords is a short-term measure, while plans to create a fully or partly elected House of Lords are examined. But given that in May last year, Nick Clegg accused David Cameron of a "nip and tuck" approach to political reform that would not lead to reform of the upper chamber, agreement could take a while.

Second is the cost. According to Lord Philip Norton:

The total annual cost of the Lords is roughly a third of the cost of the Commons. In the 2006-2007 financial year, the cost per member was £108,000 in the Lords and £682,000 in the Commons.

The implicationo is that an extra 100 peers could cost £10m -- and this after Cameron stood on a ticket of reducing the cost of politics. Even if it was not planned this way, there is something distinctly unpleasant about hugely augmenting the unelected house while pledging to reduce the number of MPs.

If nothing else, it demonstrates the antiquated nature of the House of Lords, and makes the need for reform ever more apparent. Patronage should have no place in modern politics.

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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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