The latest peerage announcements are yet more evidence that the system is broken

Sometimes you just have to call a spade a spade. And, in the case of this government, that means we need to be much more direct in tackling a problem at the heart of our democracy: corruption.

I write not as a conspiracy theorist wearing a tin foil hat, frantically scrolling through obscure online message boards and Facebook groups. My observations are made as a liberal who is fed up of the broken system that governs our country.

The appointment of sixteen more unelected lawmakers to our bloated parliament might be enough to prompt anger, but there’s more. The Prime Minister has brazenly overruled independent advice and given a life peerage to a Conservative party donor.
He’s not just a donor, he’s a man who has given several million to the party and previously had to quit as its treasurer. Boris Johnson has, of course, rightly pointed out that an internal Conservative party investigation found no wrongdoing…

The extraordinary decision comes after a year in which the Conservatives relaxed rules on government procurement then gave their supporters a fast track to contracts worth billions of pounds.

Examples of those given contracts include a Conservative councillor and a cabinet minister’s local pub landlord. Companies and individuals with direct links to government were reportedly ten times more likely to get a contract. It really is so barmy that you couldn’t make it up. And it’s also brazenly corrupt.

Added to that, we have seen crucial roles in the COVID response given to Conservatives from the private sector – including the wife of a Conservative MP. The consequences have been clear for all to see.

And if the inner circle of Downing Street is analysed, the web of interconnected families and friends becomes even murkier.
These are all signs of not just a broken system, but of a corrupt system in which your wealth, power and connections matter more than your talents, skills and ability to do the job.

Our party and its forerunners have fought for political reform and open, accountable government. Indeed, liberalism is at its best when it is holding power to account and questioning concentrations of power and wealth.

We all know that this year has been dominated by COVID and Brexit. However, when we look back we may also note that it was the year that the liberal democracy we want slid decisively further away from us.

As we look to the uncertainty of 2021, it’s not just important for us that we campaign on these issues but it’s important for the country too.

The system is broken and it’s corrupt: liberals need to make fixing the system and rooting out corruption a key part of our message to voters. If we don’t, then who will?

* Max Wilkinson is the Liberal Democrat parliamentary spokesperson for Cheltenham. He was the candidate at the 2019 general election and is a councillor on Cheltenham Borough Council and the authority’s cabinet member for climate emergency.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Max, totally agree, the current House of Lords is both undemocratic and often used to reward cronies & donors.
    However, the truth is, as both the Tories & Labour are happy with this and use the patronage it provides, we will not be in a position to change it soon.
    What we can do is highlight the iniquities of the HoL & how new peers are appointed and resurrect the system of electing new Lib Dem peers (even if we are unlikely to get any new ones soon) rather than just appointing them on the current Leaders whim.
    This is why I am submitting a Motion to Conference to do this, there is still time to add signatures.

  • @ Leon Duveen, “the current House of Lords is both undemocratic and often used to reward cronies & donors. However, the truth is, as both the Tories & Labour are happy with this and use the patronage it provides, we will not be in a position to change it soon”.

    Leon, there was a time when Liberal Democrats were “in a position to change it soon”. There’s something’s missing in your sentence : you could have said Liberal Democrats, “are happy with this and use the patronage it provides”.

    Mr Nicholas Clegg (pre-knighthood) happily appointed 51 Liberal Democrat peers during the years of his leadership. When he resigned in 2015 Liberal Democrats had the largest ratio of peers-to-MPs at any in the history of any major political party : 112 Peers and 8 MPs. Plenty of cuts to welfare but exponential growth in peerages.

  • John Marriott 28th Dec '20 - 12:28pm

    Mr Duveen can submit as many motions to conference he likes. It’s quite clear to me that having the present cockeyed system suits both Tory and Labour Parties. Ironically, if you base your calculations on current voting figures, it could be argued that the Lib Dems are over presented on that august body.

    Be careful what you wish for, Leon!😀😀

  • Max [email protected] thanks for saying all the things I have been fuming about for so long, how can the British public go on accepting the disreputable actions of this government, if the Lib Dems do not stand up and defend what decency and respect is left in our country then who will. The whole structure of our democracy is at stake, a bit dramatic I know but the outlook is very depressing.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 28th Dec '20 - 1:29pm

    Max is right the system is awful.

    The answer is as well as electing peers, more non party political peers who do good.

    Leon should please add any selected as council candidates, or elected officers of our party, it is undemocratic to allow parliamentary candidates, but only councillors on something described as principle, councils.Your motion is elitist and wrong, as a response, unless changed.

  • Yeovil Yokel 28th Dec '20 - 1:46pm

    And don’t forget the connection to Russian money.

  • Jenny Barnes 28th Dec '20 - 1:54pm

    Homeless people should immediately be appointed as Lords, with 3 good effects
    1. Ends homelessness at least temporarily
    2. Improves the balance, and probably lowers the level of corruption of the HoL
    3. Encourages constructive thought about reform.

  • Yeovil Yokel 28th Dec '20 - 2:14pm

    And don’t forget the Conservatives’ connection to Russian money and influence.

  • For starters, we could campaign for a radical reduction in the size of the chamber and then, should it happen, vote for which of our peers we want to keep.

  • We do not refuse peerages, look at our inflated gross over representation there. If we really mean it, we should refuse to nominate anyone else and simply work to scrap the place.

  • Scotland manages perfectly well with a single chamber elected on PR. The governing party refuses to accept peerages…… although they would like full governing powers – which Lib Dems oppose.

    Leon Duveen’s notion of giving Wales (pop. 3 million) the same representation as Scotland (pop. 5.5 million) in his ‘reformed House of Lords’ has become predictable from Lib Dems based in England.

  • Helen Dudden 28th Dec '20 - 9:12pm

    I thought conflict of interest, was an important consideration when voting.
    Millions of tax payers money, being wasted without any concerns.
    Medical treatment with in the NHS is purely Covid related.
    I wrote to Rees Mogg on the subject of my year long wait with several broken teeth. The fact, they are no longer alive could be good in some ways. He told me things had returned to some sort of normal, of course, the private sector has.
    I just can’t understand where the present situation is going. Ferguson had a lady friend visit, during the time he should not have, she also had a child. Cummings, travelled with his family, if he had Covid or not, he should have known better.
    Now a tier four or five, if SAGE gets their way.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 28th Dec '20 - 10:49pm

    Noting my personal interest, I’m not sure that I agree that Liberal Democrats are over-represented as Theakes puts it. We do, after all, believe in proportional representation and, on that basis, we’re not far off where we should be. And that, after all, was a perfectly acceptable reason – at the time – for creating all of those new peerages that David Raw refers to.

    Of course, the question of whether the House of Lords should exist in its current form is a perfectly fair question. It does do some things rather better than the Commons – scrutiny of legislation being a prime one. And would electing it make it more or less effective? The question of legitimacy of mandate might lead to more clashes and some of the solutions to that would merely create an utterly superfluous echo chamber.

    I find myself wondering if an unelected House, filled by a process based on that applied by the House of Lords Appointments Commission to crossbench peers at present, might not satisfy many, even if it lacks a sense of democratic accountability. That would leave the Commons in possession of undoubted primacy.

    But Leon can take all the time he needs to hone his proposed motion. Our Parliamentary Party in the Lords is being slowly whittled away – five lost this year through death or retirement – with no real prospect of replenishment any time soon.

  • John Barrett 28th Dec '20 - 11:33pm

    David Raw is correct when he points out – “Mr Nicholas Clegg (pre-knighthood) happily appointed 51 Liberal Democrat peers during the years of his leadership. When he resigned in 2015 Liberal Democrats had the largest ratio of peers-to-MPs at any in the history of any major political party : 112 Peers and 8 MPs.” and once in a position to award Peerages happily joined in awarding honours in a way that our party had condemned others for doing for decades

    Sadly, experience has shown from that time, and before, that there is and was no real appetite in the party to change the system and that the Liberal Democrats have been as happy as the other parties to award Peerages to dodgy donors, friends of the leader and failed politicians, as anyone else.

    Claiming that now the Liberal Democrats are the ones committed to changing the system, as Max Wilkinson states, simply does not stand up to the test of time and if voters are interested in reform, those voters are probably now well aware of this.

  • David Garlick 29th Dec '20 - 9:53pm

    John Barrett. Nice selection of statistic. Must of taken some work to get there.
    Some might say that it was a big improvement in the Lords as a result.

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