House of Weirdos

BY JAMES BEMBRIDGE

Whether one is an abolitionist or an advocate of the House of Lords, few would credit the second chamber with being democratic. Few, it seems, but the ever buoyant – at least in spirit – Natalie Bennett who last week took to LBC to claim that the Lords is more democratic than the Commons.

Perhaps it would be remiss of me not to mention that Miss Bennett is, herself, a peer. Her bizarre assertion was made no clearer by the explanation that followed: “in the Commons the Government has 100 % of the power having won 44% of the vote, at least in the House of Lords the balance of power is held by the crossbenchers who can defeat the government.”

If one were to be charitable to Miss Bennett, then one may say she is not so contemptibly stupid as to believe unelected peers undermining a majority government is any triumph of democracy. Instead, one suspects Bennett is working with a different definition of the word, a sort that Orwell had the prescience to define 71 years ago as ‘newspeak’.

Since the Brexit plebiscite, losers of the vote have employed this newspeak definition of democracy to an exhausting extent, subjecting the electorate to surreptitious suggestions such as ‘oh, so you like democracy, well why not a little more?’ As if we were credulous children being led by lollypop to the dentist’s drill. We all know what ‘more democracy’ would mean in that sense: the public voting ad infinitum until they give the right answer or give up the right to vote entirely – that’s Miss Bennet’s perverse kind of democracy.

The case against the Baroness’ argument is such an easy one to make that it feels almost unsportsmanlike to do so. Still, if she insists, then take Exhibit A: The Lords voted 15 times against Brexit legalisation despite the fact that both the government and its opposition were committed to delivering the result of the referendum. In voting this way, the peers of the land disregarded the wishes of its people. If that’s democracy then it’s rather light on the demos (people) and heavy on the kratos (power).

On Wednesday we were treated to yet more Lords-flavoured hypocrisy as Deputy Labour Leader Angela Rayner demanded that the peerage of political commentator Claire Fox be blocked by Boris. Rayner exclaimed that this shows Boris ‘doesn’t care about the victims and survivors of terrorism’.

That’s all well and good, but then why was Rayner happy to serve in the same cabinet as John McDonnell without ever feeling the urge to give way to such portentous preaching? Claire Fox’s IRA apologetics were yonks ago when she belonged to Frank Furedi’s weird Revolutionary Communist Party at the time that they put out a newsletter supporting ‘the right of the Irish people to take whatever measures necessary in their struggle for freedom’.

Whilst it should be noted that she never denounced this statement, these inflammatory words came from John McDonnell’s own mirthless mouth: ‘It was the bombs and bullets and sacrifice made by the likes of Bobby Sands that brought Britain to the negotiating table’.

Rayner’s caring talk for IRA victims was rendered somewhat less sincere when a Labour source came out and said ‘the Claire Fox peerage is one of the biggest gifts the Government has given us’. I’m not sure that strikes quite the sympathetic note survivors or mourners were hoping for.

The Lords of yesteryear were often a strange bunch but at least they were wise enough not to stray into communism.

Lord Rokeby decided that he would like to spend all his life near or in water. He spent hours in the sea off the Kent beaches, and his servants often had to drag him out on to dry land, unconscious. As he got older, at his home Mount Morris near Hythe he had a vast tank built with a glass top, filled with water. He spent a great deal of his time here, floating in the water. He grew the most enormous beard, so long that it hung down to his waist and spread out on the surface of the water. All his meals were taken in his pool, to the embarrassment of his family. His obsession with water was so great that had drinking fountains installed wherever he could and drank great quantities every day. He lived to be 88, so he was a good advertisement for the health-giving properties of water.

Lord North was another remarkable eccentric. He married in September and spent his honeymoon in the Caribbean. When he returned with his new American wife to Burgholt House in England in October, he announced to his wife that he was going to bed. His wife was somewhat surprised when he remained in bed for many days and was shocked to be told by a manservant that Lord North always stayed in bed from October 9th until March 22nd. A large 25-foot dining table was brought into Lord North’s bedchamber so that he could entertain people to dinner during these months.

What ‘s your fancy?

A lunatic asylum replete with ex Revolutionary Communists and Green Commies from Australia or a home for old, gin-soaked aristocrats replete with jolly nice eccentrics? Perhaps just raze the place to the ground and turn it into a jolly good bar?

James Bembridge is Deputy Editor of Country Squire Magazine.