Lib Dems set to name 7 new peers for House of Lords, says Sunday Times

by Stephen Tall on June 16, 2013

rumi verjeeToday’s Sunday Times front page (£) splashes with a ‘Cash for peerages row hits Clegg’ headline. The reality is slightly less exciting: Rumi Verjee, a prominent donor to the Lib Dems, is apparently top of the list of seven names put forward for peerages:

Rumi Verjee, a multimillionaire who brought the Domino’s pizza chain to Britain, is top of a list of seven names compiled by the Lib Dems who are expected to be awarded honours within weeks. He has given £770,000 to the party since May 2010. … Verjee used a firm called Brompton Capital to donate to the Lib Dems. Until recently Brompton was owned by Integro Nominees (Jersey) Ltd, based in the Channel Islands, also a tax haven. It is now believed to have been brought onshore. Verjee’s name was one of those submitted by the Lib Dems to the House of Lords Appointments Commission earlier this month. The commission, which vets potential peers, is considering around 20 names put forward by the three main party leaders.

Rumi Verjee was last in the limelight when Labour MP Michael Dugher demanded the Electoral Commission investigate his donations: he was cleared by the Electoral Commission within a month. The bulk of his donations to the party support the Leadership Programme, ‘designed specifically to identify, develop and support some of the best candidates from under-represented groups within the Party’, and are linked to his wider philanthropic activities through his international humanitarian charity, The Rumi Foundation.

The paper names five of the other people it believes to be on the Lib Dem list of likely new peers:

  • Alison Suttie, Nick Clegg’s former deputy chief of staff;
  • Olly Grender, former Lib Dem Communications Director;
  • Brian Paddick, the party’s London mayoral candidate in 2008 and 2012;
  • Liz Lynne, former Rochdale MP and former MEP for the West Midlands; and
  • Sir Ian Wrigglesworth, founder SDP member and the party’s current treasurer.

No hint, though, as to the identity of the seventh Lib Dem soon-to-be-peer. Guesses below-the-line are welcome, especially if well-informed!

It’s been a cumbersome process to get to this point. A year ago, the party still hoped its preparations would be for an elected second chamber, not adding to our number in the unelected House of Lords.

Last autumn’s internal elections for the Lib Dems’ interim peers panel were cancelled in the wake of the Tories and Labour torpedoing Lords reform. The party said it would bring forward proposals at the Spring 2013 conference. Well, if it did, I missed them: again, anyone want to fill in the blanks below-the-line? [Update: David Allworthy has left a comment answering the question here.]

As a result, the most recent list of elected Lib Dems for the leader to consider for the Lords dates back to 2010: results here. None of those mentioned by the Sunday Times are on the elected list (though Sal Brinton, who topped the poll, has since been made a peer).

The paper lists one other putative peer who’s apparently been dropped from the current list:

Sudhir Choudhrie, whose family has donated £650,000 to the party since 2004, has been placed on an internal party list of future peers. Until three years ago Choudhrie, who has personally given £95,000 of that sum, was not domiciled in Britain for tax purposes. … Until this month, Choudhrie’s name appeared on a draft honours list prepared by Clegg’s office. Party sources said that “it has dropped off the shortlist and is now on a longlist”.

Everything would, of course, be much simpler if the second chamber had any democratic legitimacy. But in lieu of that — and I wouldn’t put any bets on the Lords being abolished in the next decade at least — the party needs to devise a more transparent system for nominating its own peers.

That can’t be 100% internal democracy — not everyone who’d make a good working peer will stand for election or would get elected if they did; and it would be unlikely to be a very diverse list, either — but it needs to be more than a nod-and-a-wink from the leader’s office as well.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.