The way in which power is distributed in this country is a mystery to far too many people. Arguably this is one of the many reasons why so many people are unwilling to participate in democracy in its formal sense, both in terms of voting at the ballot box and beyond that to offering to serve their neighbours and colleagues by standing in an election. However some people are far too familiar to the way that power is concentrated in our nations capital and held firmly in the grip of a small number of powerful but unaccountable cliques. This is why Alan Duncan, Conservative MP was so confident when he spoke out this week and suggested that the idea that Parliament might move out from London whilst the Palace of Westminster is being renovated is asinine and simply won’t happen. A colleague of Alan Duncan and someone who I have met on several occasions is Francis Maude, who was MP of Horsham until May. I always found him to be a great deal warmer and more approachable than some of his colleagues, although I disagreed with most of his political views. He was rewarded by David Cameron (all three men are part of one of those cliques) with a permanent seat in another part of Government, the House of Lords. So this week Francis gave his first speech in the Lords, here are the first few sentences:
“My Lords, this short debate covers the range of my new ministerial responsibilities, but also affords me the occasion for my maiden speech in your Lordships’ House. I was going to say, “in this unfamiliar Chamber”, but as I look around it, the less unfamiliar it seems. It is full of familiar and, I hope, friendly faces. I hope that by the time I sit down they will be no less friendly than they are now. It is a huge responsibility to be a member of the legislature of a great nation. I was privileged to serve for 27 years in the other place [House of Commons]. My late father served a similar period in the House of Commons. Like me he left it twice, although in his case both departures were voluntary; in my case, the first was not—I was liberated by the electors. In my father’s first departure from the House of Commons he did not just leave Parliament, he left the country as well, with the result that my first school was in Sydney, Australia. I have been through a number of careers on my journey to your Lordships’ House. I have been a barrister and an investment banker as well as a politician, but public service has always held a very strong allure. Twenty-two of the 27 years I spent in the House of Commons were on the Front Bench.”
Whilst I am not wanting to suggest I have in mind a better place for Francis to express his commitment to public service, although there are numerous avenues he could try, I do believe that when one person has spent 27 years in Government or Opposition, the idea that the best place for them is in the House of Lords is stupid, arrogant and very dangerous. It may be less so if he was entering an environment where he was one of the few ex MPs, where his voice and experience would help bring some perspective to the ideas and views of benches of teachers, engineers, entrepreneurs, doctors, nurses, social workers and community activists. However it is clear from his speech that he is surrounded by ex MPs and retired civil servants, of senior law makers and senior clerics. In short Francis is surrounded by friends and people who are all familiar with the same cliques and behaviours that he and his Father were part of for most of the their working lives. That is no way to challenge the House of Commons in their law making which is the purpose of the second Chamber. If that was genuinely the way in which the House of Lords worked, there would be a much smaller group (perhaps half the size of the Commons) and the number of ex MPs would be capped to 10%-25% at any one time. Well that is my view anyway. No doubt the current 900 members would not all agree!