Friday, 19 November 2010

Expertise in the Upper House

The new list of peers published today could, in one sense, be seen as a cynical exercise in patronage. And it is true that it is being used by the coalition to lessen the chances of defeat in the Upper House. But it also includes some remarkable talent among the nominees who have much to contribute beyond their partisan allegiances.

The quality of debate can only be enhanced by the presence of luminaries like Labour's Joan Bakewell, Jonathan Kestenbaum (of Nesta), Prof Ruth Lister and Prof Maurice Glasman, and the curry king Sir Gulam Noon (regardless of his donations). For the Conservatives, businessmen like Sir Michael Bishop, the British Midland founder, Downtown Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, Michael Grade, Sir Bernard Ribeiro, the surgeon, and Fiona Shackleton, the family lawyer add genuine expertise to their benches. And the Lib Dems will benefit from having Sal Brinton, Jonathan Marks QC and Claire Tyler of Relate on their side.

That's not to say that there are not also plenty of semi-retired political hacks (though Oona King, Stewart Wood and Eluned Morgan are hardly typical political appointees), with donors and time-servers rewarded particularly on the coalition benches (the Lib Dems seem to have had trouble filling their quota). But it is a reminder of what could be lost - even more so with crossbenchers - if we opt for a wholly elected House to replace the current chamber. At a time when dumbing down and generalism is all the rage, we need specialists and experts to scrutinise our legislation more than ever. All parties deserve credit for recognising this in at least some of their nominations.

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