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26 October 2022

Sasha Swire’s Diary: Rishi Rich in No 10, lords-in-waiting, and a case of the green-eyed monster

It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than to get a seat in the House of Lords these days – as my husband can attest.

By Sasha Swire

How do I feel about the psychodrama playing out in my party? Kind of like that man in the US who bequeathed his mother’s body to an Arizona centre for Alzheimer’s research only to learn it was sold on to the US military for $6,000, strapped to a chair and blown up in a “blast test”.

Having said that, I’m quite relieved by Rishi Rich’s arrival at No 10 to calm everything down, including the markets. As a party we have always been good at reinventing ourselves, and we are good at firsts as well: first Jewish PM, first woman PM (OK, the less said about the other two the better!) and now the first PM of Indian descent. Perhaps the next one will be some human configuration we’ve not heard of yet, or maybe an Elon Musk-designed avatar? I suspect the new line of attack from Labour will be about Rishi’s wealth in a cost-of-living crisis, reverting to their default position of class warfare, but at least he won’t be open to corruption or feel any need to change the gold wallpaper. I don’t have the stamina to go through that again.

Emotional rollercoaster

It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than to get a seat in the House of Lords these days. When Boris asked my husband, Hugo, three years ago whether he was interested in becoming a working peer, we thought it would be a simple process. Wrong. It has been a big dipper of a ride, with breathtaking drops and white-knuckle grips, trying to stay on as others fell off. First, there was congestion on the tracks, then a change of leader, afterwards being bunched in with more controversial candidates, then another change of leader. For each click and clack up the lift, there was a whoosh down the other side.

[See also: Rishi Sunak’s ruthless streak should worry Labour]

Sweetening the blow

“If you tell anyone, I will have to kill you,” my husband said when he first informed me that he was a potential candidate. Nobody, not even him, trusts me any more after I wrote that book. Finally, after much sleuth-work, he found another list waitee and together they formed a support group to share coping strategies. After being vetted and passed, still no list came. Increasingly frustrated at being a mere lord-in-waiting, my husband suggested to his friend they both go down the King’s Road, buy a crown in a toy shop, then nip down to the haberdashery department at Peter Jones and get some ermine trimming. They could just turn up at the Peers entrance on the grounds there are so many non-attenders no one will know they haven’t already been sworn in.

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When the announcement came, the talk in Tory club-land was that it could only be a case of “corruption”. (The green-eyed monster is alive and well in the St James’s area of London, where these clubs reside.) All right, I confess, we did send a jar of our medicinal honey to Chequers after Boris was discharged from hospital in his own 2020 Easter tale of resurrection, with a pre-arrival text: “Better warn your security, or things might get a bit sticky!” But honestly? Apart from it being a spoonful of patronage – and the Lords is a place of patronage for all parties and leaders – there was, I can assure you, no extortion, bribery, lobbying, nepotism, graft or criminal enterprise. The government simply needs working peers, a euphemism for those who turn up to vote and have an ability to scrutinise legislation. It was really about bums on seats. Reliable ones.

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[See also: Rishi Sunak’s cabinet exposes how weak he is]

(Bed)knobs and Broomsticks

I divide up the Lords into Knobs, Knockers and Broomsticks: Knobs being the peers, nutted and bolted together by a drawbridge mentality; Knockers being the ones who try and often fail to get in; and Broomsticks the ones trying to abolish it. Gordon Brown for example, is a Broomstick; he wants to sweep away the upper house and replace it with a house of representatives from the nations and regions. Er, isn’t that what the Commons is? Do we really want another chamber of professional politicians with a democratic mandate challenging the Commons’ primacy? No thanks. The trouble is that when one or two bad apples get thrown in, which they do, the whole barrel gets bruised. In reality, the metabolic processes work perfectly adequately, the anabolism and the catabolism if you like, the build-up of arriving bills and the breakdown of them in review. Continuing with the alcohol analogy, all institutions need replenishing every now and then to revive them. And where else does a bishop sit down with a union leader, a judge and a toff to thrash out the politics of the day? This is a serious debating chamber, not an echo one; it is made up of accomplished characters from all classes, colours and creeds. On the whole, it works.

Sasha Swire is the author of “Diary of an MP’s Wife” (Little, Brown)

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This article appears in the 26 Oct 2022 issue of the New Statesman, State of Disorder