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Monday, July 17, 2006


It is the first day proper of recess and already I have wall-to-wall meetings that will keep me busy to well past 9pm. These include visits to constituents, a briefing on transport policies in Swansea and a meeting with Post Office workers about plans to close Swansea City Centre's only Crown Post Office.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has been busy trying to protect his inheritance. In an interview with the BBC's Politics Show yesterday he insisted that his Government's ID card is still on track and will go ahead according to the original timetable. We will see.

The Prime Minister also made the extraordinary claim that even though donations could be linked to peerages, nobody in the Labour party had broken the rules on fundraising or nominations for honours:

He argued that people who helped "pay [a party's] bills" should be able to serve in the Lords because many places were reserved for party supporters.


The prime minister told BBC1's Politics Show: "I don't believe that anybody in the Labour party has broken the rules in relation to this." He said the Conservatives were also under investigation and stressed that Labour reforms had made donations more transparent and removed his powers of patronage over Lords appointments. But he added: "It's sometimes excluded from the public's mind ... That there are places in the House of Lords are reserved for party nominees.

"These are not honours, they're working peerages, reserved for party supporters, Conservative supporters, Labour supporters, Liberal Democrat supporters. In my view, it is absurd to say that if someone supports a political party financially - helps it pay its bills, run its election campaign - that they should be debarred from ... those places reserved specifically for party supporters." The appointments commission agreed in 2003 that when donors were recommended for peerages "it would need to be convinced that the person would still have been nominated if he or she had not made a donation". Dr Patel and Sir Gulam have both said Lord Levy told them not to mention the loans on their nomination forms.

Blair's scenario may well be his preferred outcome but he has failed to carry out the necessary reforms to allow it to operate in that way. In particular there is still an appointments commission, which is working to the old rules, whilst Acts of Parliament remain in place that make it illegal to sell peerages. If there really are places in the House of Lords reserved for party supporters and donors then why put obstacles in the way of its efficient working by leaving those safeguards intact?

The reality is that the Prime Minister has been caught out by his own half-thought through and incomplete reforms. He has tried to create a system of patronage whereby he, and other party leaders, can reward their cronies and in doing so has effectively usurped the British constitution.

Whilst we rely on a system of appointment to fill the House of Lords these abuses will continue, no matter which party is in government. People will be able to buy position and influence. That is why the case for some form of state funding of political parties and an elected second chamber is becoming more and more overwhelming.


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