Oh, Lord, won't you buy me..?
March 22, 2015 3:39 PM   Subscribe

92 lottery winners appointed to UK Parliament.

UK politics has a long tradition of "Cash for Honours" scandals, the most recent involving appointments to the House of Lords. Evidence of any actual agreement struck between party official or politician and a donor leading to a gong was not found.

A new Oxford University study (pdf) investigates the link between life peerages and party donations and concludes that "It is of course perfectly possible that it is pure coincidence that “big donors” are disproportionately likely to be nominated for peerages. However, the odds of it being pure coincidence are roughly the same as those of entering Britain’sNational Lottery five consecutive times, and winning the jackpot on each occasion. Whilst coincidence is theoretically possible, this explanation does stretch the limits of credulity."
posted by Jakey (31 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Campaign finance donations! Why in the old days, you couldn't just buy your way into the Peerage, you had to do something notable like put down Irish rebels.
posted by wuwei at 3:49 PM on March 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

To be fair, I actually think a vast majority of the hereditary peers got their peerage for donating money or troops to the British Crown, so I'm not sure I really see why this is a scandal.
posted by corb at 3:52 PM on March 22, 2015 [5 favorites]

Only a small fraction of hereditary peers are entitled to sit in the Lords and influence legislation though.
posted by sobarel at 3:57 PM on March 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

That is correct. If one clicks the link and reads each sentence of the pdf abstract, there is nothing particularly scandalous about this. Perhaps a mild sense of outrage would be a proportionate response.
posted by polymodus at 3:59 PM on March 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Tear it down. The House of Lords is a relic and has no place in the 21st century.
posted by Talez at 3:59 PM on March 22, 2015 [7 favorites]

Wait, wait, are you saying that the way you become nobility is not through strength of character and nobility of soul, but through mere wealth and connections? I, for one, am shocked at the suggestion.
posted by Pyry at 4:00 PM on March 22, 2015 [19 favorites]

To be fair

Please point to a single reason to be, or evidence anything is, "fair" in this context.
posted by mhoye at 4:21 PM on March 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

They are no members of the common throng,
They are all noblemen, who have gone wrong.

No Englishman unmoved that statement hears,
Because, with all our faults, we love our House of Peers.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:34 PM on March 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Surely the more appropriate song is:

When Britain really ruled the waves --
In good Queen Bess's time --
The House of Peers made no pretence
To intellectual eminence,
Or scholarship sublime;
Yet Britain won her proudest bays
In good Queen Bess's glorious days!

When Wellington thrashed Bonaparte,
As every child can tell,
The House of Peers, throughout the war,
Did nothing in particular,
And did it very well;
Yet Britain set the world a-blaze
In good King George's glorious days!

And while the House of Peers withholds
Its legislative hand,
And noble statesmen do not itch
To interfere with matters which
They do not understand,
As bright will shine Great Britain's rays,
As in King George's glorious days!
posted by kyrademon at 4:40 PM on March 22, 2015 [13 favorites]

LOL but how many people here besides you and I have seen Iolanthe, let alone remember the libretto?
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:43 PM on March 22, 2015

(I do... and have. Twice.)
posted by markkraft at 4:44 PM on March 22, 2015

(I've been in it. For my sins.)

(I've also been to a debate in the the Upper House-- on Lords reform, in fact, during the Blair years-- and it was a great disappointment that it was not conducted in song.)
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:59 PM on March 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Basically, it's like having a Republican House majority, put there and bought out by lobbyists, with congressional districts decided by party loyalists using gerrymandering tactics, hand in hand with voter supression... only more honest, direct, and to the point.
posted by markkraft at 5:03 PM on March 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

All members of the US House and Senate should be chosen by lottery. It would remove the influence of campaign finance money and would surely be better than the system we have now.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:14 PM on March 22, 2015 [5 favorites]

Fortunately, if the British want to rid themselves of this corruption temporarily before going to a pure democracy, it's really easy to do.

Simply give all the members of the House of Lords titles, such as Sir and Dame... and then let Elton John, Anthony Hopkins, Paul McCartney, Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones, and Cliff Richards call the shots for awhile. (Lord Elton has a nice ring to it.)
posted by markkraft at 5:15 PM on March 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

I couldn't find the list. Was Zonker on it?
posted by toodleydoodley at 5:15 PM on March 22, 2015 [5 favorites]

The most interesting dynamic in all of this is that the House of Lords keeps growing and growing. It is expected at some point next parliament to reach over 1,000 members. It used to be even bigger before the reforms shutting out hereditary peers, but a difference then was that relatively few of them regularly attended. Now, life peers go quite often to the chamber and engage in debates, meaning that their ever–growing number means less time and room for them all to have a say.

Given that political donors are essentially buying seats in the House of Lords, things will eventually come to a crunch. Political parties won't want to stop selling peerages because they need the funds, as well as needing to boost their voting block in the chamber. But donors will also want to see that their money is buying something of value, which is less true the more members there are.

I expect that House of Lords reform may well be initiated by whichever party first feels they've exhausted their donors.
posted by Thing at 5:47 PM on March 22, 2015

Ugh, jumped-up cits buying their way into the peerage. Next thing you know they'll be letting them in to Almack's.

Nothing new under the sun
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:16 PM on March 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

Simply give all the members of the House of Lords titles

If anyone is involved in reality show production, and has access to Patrick Stewart, Bob Geldof, Mick Jagger, and Salman Rushdie ... I have a concept called "House of Sirs".
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:12 PM on March 22, 2015

(Did Iolanthe in high school, strangely enough.)

The really screwed up part of all this, at least to me as an American, is the degree of conflicts of interests when it comes to the House of Lords. Sure, our congressmen take campaign contributors from the same businesses they regulate, and yes they advocate for companies in their districts to get lucrative government contracts, and yes they leave Congress and go on to lobby on behalf of corporate interests, but at least they aren't allowed to actually serve on corporate boards, draw paychecks from the companies they are regulating, or take cash from foreign governments while serving in the legislature.
posted by zachlipton at 8:11 PM on March 22, 2015

(My high school did a G&S every year - I think Iolanthe was a couple years after I graduated.)

About reading the pdf , and outrage, here's the abstract, and I've handily bolded a couple sentences that explain why outrage is merited (spoiler: it's not just honors being bought here - it's sitting peerage with the expectation to legislate.)
Trust in political institutions has declined across developed democracies. One of the main reasons cited for this lack of trust in public opinion polls has been the role of money in politics. The Supreme Court decisions in Citizens United and McCutcheon , amongst others, have increased the political salience of potential campaign finance reforms, and the Great Recession has reinvigorated a public debate on regulatory capture by Wall Street. So too scholars have taken up the topic with renewed vigor. Political scientists have tried to tackle the issue in two main steps: firstly, by showing that money can buy access to legislators; and, secondly, that legislators are thereby more responsive to the wishes of d onors when writing and voting on laws. Researchers have used experiments and other techniques to show that Congressional staffs are more responsive to requests from donors compared to others, and have also shown aggregate trends in responsiveness to the pr eferences of the wealthier. In this paper we try and go one step further: to show that donors can become legislators. We do this by looking at a novel example: the United Kingdom’ s appointed Second Chamber, the House of Lords. Compiling an original dataset of large donations and nominations for “ peerages ” that allow them to take a seat in the Lords, the authors show that, when the “usual suspects” for a position, like former MPs and party workers, are accounted for, donations seem to play an outsize role in accounting for the remaining peers. Given the widespread concern at undue influence accorded to large donors, understanding the extent of how donations influence politics and evaluating proposals for democratic renewal should be a major concern of political science.
posted by gingerest at 8:34 PM on March 22, 2015

The first thing I do when I read articles like this is ctrl+F and "corruption". The word must have been stricken off the British dictionaries. Corruption is something that only happens abroad, apparently.
posted by Marauding Ennui at 11:39 PM on March 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

(The term does make several appearances in the Oxford study - perhaps the Guardian is trying to be even-handed?)
posted by gingerest at 11:46 PM on March 22, 2015

Actually, I think a lottery would be quite a good way of giving out Parliamentary seats.
posted by Segundus at 12:20 AM on March 23, 2015

Segundus - Yep, it's called a sortition, and just so happened to be the way officials were appointed in ancient Athens. Turns out there are other forms of democracy than voting.
posted by Zarkonnen at 1:40 AM on March 23, 2015

"Common throng..." is PIRATES, not IOLANTHE. My wife came down the aisle to "Loudly let the trumpets bray" on our wedding day.
posted by alasdair at 1:47 AM on March 23, 2015

Perhaps a mild sense of outrage would be a proportionate response.

Words that should be stitched on our flag.

Cup of tea, anyone?
posted by Leon at 2:38 AM on March 23, 2015

Mischievously, I note that the proportion of non-white people in the sample provided by the Guardian is far higher than that of the elected Commons. So you can stop people buying peerages, if you like, but that means the legislature will be whiter and less representative of the ethnic composition of the country.
posted by alasdair at 4:21 AM on March 23, 2015

(I designed the set for my college G&S players' production of Iolanthe. And I know from experience that making an obscure G&S reference on MetaFilter always gets favorites. There are a lot of us around who know them well.)
posted by ocherdraco at 4:56 AM on March 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

perhaps the Guardian is trying to be even-handed?

Or maybe they used all their 'corruption's in "Let’s not fool ourselves. We may not bribe, but corruption is rife in Britain" a few days ago.
posted by robself at 7:46 AM on March 23, 2015

And I know from experience that making an obscure G&S reference on MetaFilter always gets favorites. There are a lot of us around who know them well.

Henceforth, I shall endeavor to be more obscure.
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:13 PM on March 25, 2015

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