Boris Johnson accused of 'cronyism' in House of Lords peerage row

1 August 2020, 14:08

Boris Johnson has been accused of 'cronyism' in a row over life peerages
Boris Johnson has been accused of 'cronyism' in a row over life peerages. Picture: PA Images
Ewan Quayle

By Ewan Quayle

Boris Johnson has been accused of "the worst kind of cronyism" in a row over life peerages with Lords and opposition parties. is being urged to reform the House of Lords after research suggested the majority of peers live in or close to London.

The SNP accused the Prime Minister of "handing out jobs for life" to friends and family after putting forward his brother Jo Johnson, several Tory grandees and his chief strategic adviser for peerages.

The party's Cabinet Office spokesman, Pete Wishart, said: "It's the worst kind of cronyism that only highlights the rotten Westminster system that is detached from reality."

Numerous Brexit-backers are set to head to the Lords after Downing Street revealed its new list of 36 nominations on Friday.

The Lord Speaker also weighed in on the debate, calling on Boris Johnson to stop creating "mass" peerages and labelled the size of the upper chamber "ridiculous".

Lord Fowler said Mr Johnson was encouraging "passenger" peers by failing to tackle the size of the Lords, which will have almost 200 members more than the House of Commons with the new intake.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Lord Fowler said: "I do think the Prime Minister has got to stop these kinds of mass appointments because I think the public are unimpressed with it, I think most of us in the House of Lords are unimpressed with it and it is not necessary - we don't need a House of Lords of 830.

"I mean, it is ridiculous because it is far too many for the duties... we have very important duties to carry out in terms of the governance of this country but we don't need 830 people to do it - that's the plain fact and everyone knows that is a fact."

According to reports, 88 peers - one in nine - have not spoken, held a Government post or participated in a committee, while 46 have never even voted.

Reports on Friday suggest that Brexit supporters including former England cricketer Sir Ian Botham, who lives in North Yorkshire, several former rebel Labour MPs and Alexander Lebedev, the son of a former KGB operative who owns the Independent and Evening Standard newspapers and has long been friends with Mr Johnson.

It follows calls from the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) on Saturday to reform the Lords to be more representative of the country.

The campaign group says that 55% of peers live in the capital, or the East and South East of England, while peers in the East and West Midlands make up just 6% between them.

ERS chief executive, Darren Hughes, said: "The unelected House of Lords is looking increasingly like a Westminster private member's club, with voices outside of London and the South East locked out.

"This totally undermines the Government's stated intention to 'level up' the regions, when we have a chamber that is skewed towards one patch of England.

"This is a major inequity in the heart of our politics, and means the expertise and skills of huge parts of the UK go ignored."

Mr Hughes call for a "fairly-elected" revising chamber that can "stand up" for the nations and regions of the UK.

Responding to the accusations of cronyism, a government spokesperson responded: "As has been the case under successive administrations, distinguished individuals are periodically appointed as peers to enable the House of Lords to fulfil its role as a revising and scrutinising chamber while respecting the primacy of the Commons."