The Lib Dem appointments to the Lords were made by Charles Kennedy, not Ming Campbell. Unfortunately, it has to be said they demonstrate a lot of what was wrong with the Kennedy administration and why, however it was done, we are better off without him.
Firstly, the bizarre appointment of John Lee, a former Conservative MP. This was widely covered in the December edition of Liberator which is now available online, so I’ll simply quote it here:
John who? Lee was Tory MP for Nelson and Colne and a former tourism minister who joined the Liberal Democrats in 2001, since when very little has been heard of him.
Kennedyâ€™s decision to elevate Lee will surprise the few people who have read Leeâ€™s autobiography Portfolio Man. After a few pages on his decision to join the Liberal Democrats, Lee notes: â€œHowever, although enjoying my involvement, I found that I did not really have my original appetite for party politics and finally withdrew from Lib Dem activity in the autumn of 2004. Currently and metaphorically I view the political scene from the crossbenches.â€
If this is how Lee describes himself, what possible justification is there in wasting one of the partyâ€™s peerages on him?
Indeed. But the other howler is the number of appointments. Back in 2003, Kennedy insisted that Blair allow him more appointments than the number that was originally offered; Blair relented, mainly because he couldn’t afford not to. Yet this time we have settled for a figure that essentially entrenches our lack of representation in the Lords.
Labour have repeatedly committed themselves to ensuring that the appointments to the Lords broadly reflect the previous General Election. They signed up to it in the Cook-Maclennan Agreement, announced it in their 2001 manifesto and at no point have indicated that they would abandon the policy. Yet in nearly 10 years we are still grossly under represented. Before the latest tranche, Labour and the Tories had around 41% of all working peers while the Lib Dems had 15%. After this latest tranche, Labour and the Tories will have around 41% each, while the Lib Dems will still have 15%. Quite how this can be justified when Labour currently enjoy the lowest mandate of any government in history while the Lib Dems are at their highest point in 70 years, would be interesting to hear.
It is time we stopped accepting this. A few years ago, a friend of mine suggested we should simply refuse to appoint any one, a la the SNP. I didn’t think it was appropriate at the time, but I certainly think there is a case for it now if Labour continues to flounder on Lords reform and offer us such slim pickings. It would certainly be a more principled stance than the party’s present pantomime of “electing” a panel from which the leader can select candidates, which has resulted in a ridiculous pantomime with some seriously inappropriate people ending up on the list.