Saturday 20 November 2010

Now, Labour leader attacked for NOT packing Lords with party donors

The Labour party got a lot of flak over the "cash for honours" inquiry across 2006 and 2007, which finally ended with nobody facing charges.

How things change.

Saturday's Times front-page splash sees Ed Miliband attacked for "snubbing" party donors - because only one of the ten new Labour peers had been a party donor, Sir Gulam Noon.

The newspaper's report says that Gordon Brown was considering offering working peerages to more party donors - Nigel Doughty, Sir Ronald Cohen and fundraiser Jon Mendelsohn - but that Miliband decided not to make those nominations.

Another senior party figure said: “These people have brought millions of pounds into the party and it’s no use being idealistic about it. We need the money.”

A spokeswoman said yesterday that the decision over working peers was another indication of how “Generation Ed will do things differently”. She added: “Ed is his own man. He was under no obligation to pick people who Gordon had, or had not, signalled would get peerages.”

David Cameron faces the more traditional criticism - having ennobled several Tory donors. The new Tory list included Robert Edmiston, whose nomination has previously been rejected in 2005. The Daily Telegraph reports this related to questions over his tax affairs. The right-of-centre newspaper calls the 'controversial "front" organisation the Midlands Industrial Council', because it funds party activity in a way which allows the identity of donors to be kept secret.

The Independent's Saturday editorial criticises the persistent correlation between cash and honours.

This is not an open and shut point. There are certainly some who donate to political parties who are legitimate choices as working peers. (Some of the Tory appointments - such as Tory party fundraiser and co-chairman, Andrew Feldman, a long-standing Cameron friend - reflect political activism, and so are not out of the ordinary for working peerages on behalf of a party). At least some political donors have brought particular policy expertise to government. David Sainsbury, for example, was hailed as the scientists' science minister after eight years which transformed the funding and profile within government of British science.


But there is something different about the first Ed Miliband list of Labour peers, and the shift of emphasis goes beyond the reduced profile of party donors. Though this contains ex-MP Oona King and outgoing party general secretary Ray Collins, there is rather less emphasis on ex-politicians and stalwart party servants. (The traditional approach to using working peerages to reward trusted party loyalists is strongly reflected in the list of 15 new LibDem peers, the majority of whom - with exceptions including Stephen Nicol, former Scottish deputy first minister, and Susan Kramer - will be known only by party activists. The LibDem list again includes some major donors, such as Paul Strasburger, who is also reported to have a strong track record in non-political philanthropy).

Labour's nominations include several figures who combine policy expertise on specific issues with a reputation for critical independence, in effect choosing party supporters with profiles similar to those of cross-bench peers with policy expertise. That they are unlikely to always put the party whip first, particularly on their key issues, but this may both signal a greater confidence about pluralism, and might indeed strengthen their voice and value to the party.

Ruth Lister is one of Britain's leading academic experts on poverty has also contributed enormously to civic activism on poverty, inequality and feminism, as a former director of the Child Poverty Action Group, and particularly in championing the participation of those with experience of poverty in anti-poverty campaigns. She has often been engaged in poverty debates inside and outside the party - having been a member of the Fabian Life Chances Commission which published 'Narrowing the Gap' in 2006, and the Commission for Social Justice set up by John Smith - but probably can not be counted as one of life's New Labour loyalists.

Maurice Glasman has been a key academic and activist voice with London Citizens. Glasman's "blue Labour" civic communitarianism presents some important left-conservative challenges to liberal-left thinking inside and outside Labour, but again suggests a confidence about pluralism as well as an interest in bottom-up activism and organising.

The Guardian environment blog was highly enthused by the appointment of climate change expert and campaigner Bryony Worthington, capturing how she is highly rated within environmental circles, while perhaps being relatively little known in the political world before this.

Joan Bakewell does have a very high public profile - though not as a hyper-partisan - and her appointment will enable her to build on her role advocating for older people under the last government. (Next Left's modest suggestion is that Bakewell's appointment should also mark a moratorium on pieces repeating the excessively well-worn "thinking man's crumpet" phrase).

So it is a fairly imaginative peers' list, which does something to increase its legitimacy. The Tory list includes Michael Grade, while the party also nominated General Dannett, who has chosen to sit as a crossbencher.

Perhaps what we should be looking for - with the move to an elected upper house during the Parliament - is how to create an institutional culture where the parties do try to involve and put up for election party supporters with external experience and expertise, to avoid it simply recruiting an almost identical sociological group to those in the Commons.


The Times has been running an in-depth Labour insider series all week. The details will have been picked over in Westminster among MPs and Spads, and by the rest of the political lobby.

This may well be an example of how the newspaper's paywall restricts the ability of its stories to make waves online or through social networks, or to influence wider discussion among party audiences. Had the "goose plot" - prominent on Friday's front-page - been in The Guardian or Telegraph, it might well have been all over the political blogosphere. Outside the professional political classes, it mostly seemed to shrink without trace.


Big Fez said...

"the majority of whom - with exceptions including Stephen Nicol, former Scottish deputy first minister, and Susan Kramer - will be known only by party activists"

Obviously "Mr Nicol" is not well enough known for you to get his name the right way round!

Anonymous said...

I am immensely impressed by the names Ed picked, people of intellect and offers an awful lot to the party developing policies