There is no doubt that the downfall of Lord Sewel makes for a salacious story. That one of the key people behind the new rules on standards of conduct in the House of Lords has been involved in a scandal involving drugs and prostitutes was always going to make news. As Lord Sewel himself said when introducing new rules on expelling peers “Scandals make good headlines”.
Shocking as his alleged behaviour may be, it misses the fundamental problems with the House of Lords. Lord Sewel gained a seat in Parliament because of political patronage. He earned £84,525 a year, played a key role in our Parliament as Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Committees, had a job for life but was accountable to no-one. This system cronyism is well past its sell by date. It is not just Lord Sewel who should leave the House of Lords but the whole system of appointing members. The people making the laws that we all have to live by should be accountable to the people. This is a fundamental principle of democracy that the UK ignores in favour of outdated traditions that perplex the public that Parliament is supposed to serve.
Lords Sewel may have belatedly resigned but the the scandal lingers. David Cameron today said that the UK is no place for dirty money but he seems to make an exception for buying a seat in the House of Lords. Research by a group of Oxford academics has found a significant relationship between donations to political parties and nominations for peerages. It undermines trust in our political system and fuels public cynicism about participation in politics. The real scandal of the House of Lords is not the behaviour of any single individual but the fact that patronage and cronyism remain at the heart of our political system.