Keir Starmer has been urged not to abandon a key leadership pledge of abolishing the House of Lords, with Gordon Brown warning that plans to “gerrymander” parliament’s upper chamber by flooding it with dozens of Tory peers proved the need for drastic reform.
Alarm was raised by the former Labour prime minister over a proposal drawn up by a political lobbying group for Boris Johnson to appoint up to 50 new Conservatives to ram contentious legislation through given a series of embarrassing defeats by peers.
Brown said the leaked document he had seen from CT Group – run by Lynton Crosby, a key adviser to Johnson – “legitimises straightforward bribery” by recommending those who vote loyally be rewarded with special envoy positions, honours and lunches at Chequers.
Nicknamed “Operation Homer”, the plan also said new peers would have to give a written undertaking to support the government in key votes on controversial legislation, likely to include the Northern Ireland protocol bill that would unilaterally override the Brexit deal.
Under the cover of levelling up the Lords by picking peers from under-represented parts of the UK, the paper admitted it was the “perfect excuse” to ensure a swathe of loyalist law-makers are ennobled.
Writing in the Guardian, Brown said the proposal “makes no bones about the defenestrated prime minister’s aim to pack the House of Lords” that would see him “ride roughshod over every convention and standard of propriety in an effort to secure political nominees who will vote for the Tory government”.
He added that the paper’s claim the media could be easily blindsided by the appointment of a few controversial figures or celebrities to avoid criticism of the sheer number of “cronies” appointed would amount to “gerrymandering”.
“The solution is to reform the Lords, not reinforce its unrepresentativeness,” Brown said, calling for Starmer to pick up the mantle of trying to abolish the un-elected upper chamber in parliament.
Although Starmer made it one of his 10 pledges during the 2020 leadership campaign, it is one of several he is accused of backtracking on. Asked about his commitment to “abolish the House of Lords” and “replace it with an elected chamber of regions and nations” last November, Starmer did not repeat it but committed to “change” instead.
Brown said the current appointments system “calls into question the unfettered patronage of the prime minister who alone can recommend appointments to the Queen”.
Both he and Tony Blair declined a resignation honours list, which Brown said had “undermined the reputation of a number of past prime ministers”.
“Johnson’s latest attempt to manipulate the Lords’ system is the culmination of years of constitutional vandalism,” Brown claimed, pointing out the “shameless” appointment of Conservative party donors and eight former party treasurers.
Although defeated in 2008 when he tried to press ahead with Lords reform, Brown said it was “time to flush out who really wants change and who does not”.
“The abolition of the current House of Lords was one of the 10 commitments Keir Starmer made when assuming the Labour party leadership,” he wrote. “Now Boris Johnson and Lynton Crosby have handed him the strongest possible case for long overdue reform.”
Starmer has faced similar pressure from, Anas Sarwar, the Scottish Labour leader who has said the Lords in its current form “has no place in 21st-century politics”.
A Labour spokesperson said: “The Lynton Crosby plan to pack the House of Lords shows that fundamental reform is needed. Keir Starmer has asked Gordon Brown to lead a review of the UK’s constitution. It will report later this year and set out the options for change.”
A CT Group spokesperson said: “The document you refer to was simply an early working copy of a discussion paper prepared for a thinktank. It was not circulated outside a small group of individuals and was not prepared for any audience beyond that small group of people, to aid discussion.
“Even in spite of this being simply a working draft of a discussion paper, it seems incongruous that you would be against making the House of Lords more representative of the UK people with under-representation of the north and Wales, as you state, or that those who accept peerages do so in the full knowledge and acceptance that they will commit fully and actively to their democratic role, and have no conflicts which would prevent them from doing so.”
A government spokesperson said: “Given retirements and other departures, some new members are essential to keep the expertise and outlook of the Lords fresh.
“This will ensure the Lords continues to fulfil its role in scrutinising and revising legislation, whilst respecting the primacy of the Commons and the associated conventions between the two houses.
“It has also been the case under successive governments from across the political spectrum that prime ministers can draw up a ‘Dissolution’ or ‘Resignation’ List.”
Friends, this isn’t the time to be complacent. If you are ready to fight for the soul of this nation, you can start by donating to elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris by clicking the button below.
Thank you so much for supporting Joe Biden’s Presidential campaign.