Our not-so-decrepit peers


If you read the Evening Standard the day before the Richmond Park by-election, you might have noticed this wonderful comment on the participation of Liberal Democrat peers in the campaign, which I suspect came from someone in Zac Goldsmith’s team who was overwhelmed by how many Liberal Democrat activists were on the streets.

One hundred Lib Dem peers were sent to knock on doors. Only a handful of the ill and very old were spared by-election duties – in echoes of James Graham’s play This House which recounts how MPs close to death were dragged to the Commons for crunch votes in the seventies.

If you’ve seen the play, you will appreciate the picture of the elderly and infirm being wheeled in to do their bit.  Of course it wasn’t at all like that.  I don’t think more than 25 of us were ever there together at one time, though many of us went as often as we could, and canvassed over the phone when we couldn’t:  not as a ‘duty’, but because we enjoy election campaigns, we’ve done a lot of campaigning in our time, and we’re committed to the party.

I was one of the laggards; my wife had banned me from too much pounding pavements when I ended up in A and E in St. Thomas’s the day after a long session in the Tooting by-election, which had followed  in turn a weekend canvassing for Remain in the European referendum in Bradford.  But I hope you will forgive me for not doing more this time.  I worked in my first by-election in Cambridgeshire in 1961, my second in Orpington in 1962, and have vivid memories of the Manchester Exchange by-election in 1973, when Helen spent most of her day and night helping to run the campaign HQ, and a floating population of visiting activists filled our house to sleep every night.  Many of my colleagues in the Lords have worked in as many or more campaigns as we have over the years, sometimes as local or parliamentary candidates themselves, more often to support others.  Our ranks include several former leaders of city and local authorities as well as former MPs.

Some of the more troll-like comments on LibDem Voice portray our group in the Lords as a group of the out-of-touch, complacent metropolitan elite.  So forgive me briefly for blowing our collective trumpet.  The Lords as currently composed is, of course, democratically indefensible; but then, the Commons isn’t perfect in representative terms, and doesn’t do a very good job in scrutinising legislation.

Since the exclusion of most of the hereditaries in 1999, the Lords has become the chamber in which most amendments to government Bills are made.  Liberal Democrat peers are active on legislation, with NGOs bombarding us with advice and preferred changes.  Lords committees now serve some of the purposes that royal commissions did two generations ago, with Liberal Democrats active on all of them.  So we work hard; Tony Greaves, Brian Paddick, Liz Barker, Sally Hamwee and many others harry ministers to justify each clause in bills drafted to push half-formed proposals from right-wing think tanks into law.

And it provides a platform for political visibility.  Many of you will have heard Sal Brinton on Any Questions last week: the third peer on our benches to serve as party president since I joined the Lords.  We do our best to maintain close links between the national party and local members, in the absence (temporary, we hope) of a larger Commons Party. Peers have spoken at over 500 local meetings since the 2015 election, 150+ since this summer.  We’ve all been encouraged by the quality of the new members we have met, in these and in regional party conferences – some of whom are now advising us on policies and Bills.

If you’d like a visit, you are welcome to contact our Whips’ Office on 020-7219-1229, or better [email protected].  And we will try not to send you someone who is ‘ill and very old’, as the Evening Standard depicted us, let alone ‘close to death’; most of us still have our marbles, as well as our Liberal instincts and enthusiasm!

Editor’s note: Before anyone mentions it, the photo does include four MPs, one soon-to-become MP and one London Assembly member. The rest are all peers!


* Lord Wallace of Saltaire is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords.

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  • Tony Greaves 12th Dec '16 - 2:59pm

    I can easily guess who wrote this (I think!) – but I think everyone else should be told!

  • Peter Andrews 12th Dec '16 - 3:17pm

    Its says at the top and bottom of the article who wrote it now if it did not do so before

  • Sadie Smith 12th Dec '16 - 3:19pm

    It is usually my MP’s line.

  • I think you may have missed the author from this article? I don’t think Mary has joined the Lords yet?

  • John Samuel 12th Dec '16 - 4:02pm

    Logically, I should want a democratically elected second chamber. But comparing, say, the House of Lords to the US Senate, I am left saying “damn the logic, full speed ahead, M’Lurd”.

  • Apologies! My mistake … or maybe wishful thinking on my part. Now properly credited.

  • My recollection from the Crewe & Nantwich byelection was of some very supportive peers. Special mention to Roger Roberts who, on more than one occasion, got up at some ludicrous hour of the morning to get an early train from Llandudno – spend a couple of hours with us in Crewe, then travel on to Lords’ business. Diolch Roger!

  • Tony Greaves 12th Dec '16 - 7:22pm

    Right first time!

  • I’d say the Lords have been out-performing the Commons lately. Intellectually, I know it needs reform, but we need good quality legislation more. I it, however, interesting to start seeing traditional Tories complain about their half-baked policies being scrutinised, develop a sudden interest in reform.

    In the meantime, keep up the good work. Many of you are doing a great job. I especially like that cross-party collaboration doesn’t seem to be such a swear word once you stop fretting about getting re-elected.

  • When I was younger, so much younger than today (there’s a tune in there somewhere), I was taught that ‘elders’ were to be respected.
    Like many of my generation, David Attenborough was beamed into my life introducing us to communities on far away islands , continents and ‘native’ lands, where things seemed to move at a gentler, more respectful pace.
    Elders accumulated knowledge, experience and were looked up to as a source of inspiration and motivation for the generations coming behind.
    In many ways it was an age of hierarchy and unchallenged authority – some may argue it held societies and ‘tribes’ together in a long forgotten world?

    I think what the Lib Dem’s of all ages and positions endeavour to do in the modern day world and particularly western society is commendable, which is why I engage.
    I think the wonderful people here who have given so much over so long deserve respect and have much to offer in experience and passion for what they do every day.

    Interesting to see this thread today after a bit of a generational spat on another thread yesterday, especially given the phrase included above:
    “Some of the more troll-like comments on LibDem Voice portray our group in the Lords as a group of the out-of-touch, complacent metropolitan elite”.

    Maybe equality isn’t as easily accepted across the generations as the concept of the ‘wise elders’ used to be?

    As I can see, the Lib Dem’s appear to work extremely hard and are full of passion *regardless of age*.

    What divides everyone seems, to me at least, small compared to what unites!

  • During Richmond campaigning i met many of our Peers working hard to get Sarah Olney elected. I am proud of our House of Lords imput 🙂

  • Hilton Marlton 13th Dec '16 - 10:15am

    Never look an unelected Lib Dem Peer in the mouth. Worth their weight in electoral gold in these populist, mob-rule times. Irony can be sweet.

  • Only the LibDems could spin unelected representation in this manner.
    At some point the conflict between the term liberal and unelected must cause some discomfort?

  • Richard Underhill 14th Dec '16 - 3:55pm

    Catching up with This Week Zac Goldsmith said reluctantly that “I have to resign”

  • John Barrett 14th Dec '16 - 8:13pm

    There is a real problem for the party every time an unelected member of the House of Lords is put up as a party spokesperson on TV or radio. It is understandable that with so few MPs, others are often used to fill media opportunities.

    While the individual Peer may be well able to represent the party’s position, the fact that they are unelected, or were elected, but lost their seat and were then appointed, undermines the Democrat in Liberal Democrat and reinforces the appearance that we represent that Liberal elite that so many now wish to kick in the teeth.

    Tim’s decision to have so many of his shadow team from the Lords was a mistake and at the expense of many very able and capable people in the wider party.

    With the exception of Tim and Nick, our other MPs are now effectively invisible on national TV. It is good to hear of the hard work our Peers are doing, but somewhere in the party action should be taken to make sure that elected MPs appear on the media more than our unelected Lords.

  • Right again, John. Bulls Eye.

    I’m still trying to get over Kendal Town Council being abolished in 1974. I’d have been an unelected Alderman by now.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 14th Dec '16 - 10:38pm

    Very good positive article , and comments from Lord Wallace .

    I admire the best of the Lords . There is another picture of the Richmond election. he first of them involving our peers. It is of Floella Benjamin opening the headquarters.

    Any House anywhere and any party , that has that terrific woman in it , is having a House party worth celebrating !

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