Public Relations?

Lord Tyler

My fellow blogger, Frances D’Souza, and I have been interviewed about the ‘LordsoftheBlog’ project for the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The Week in Westminster’, broadcast on Saturday morning.   Even the respected journalist Elinor Goodman – hostess of this week’s discussion – couldn’t resist challenging us on our motives.  Is this just PR (that is ‘public relations’, rather than anything to do with voting) or has it any real democratic value?   Well, that’s for you to judge.

However, I took her to task.  If democracy doesn’t involve any relationship with the public, what is it for?   Modern technology enables representatives to listen to a much wider selection of the public.   Those with money and influence may have had a hot line to Ministers, MPs and Peers in the past.  Now every citizen who has a genuine, informed, personal interest can make their voice heard.  MPs and Peers still have to use their own judgement, but at least they can (and should) have a wider range of views to base it on.   That is effective public relations.

Naturally, we were also asked if we were paid to do this.  Hearty laughter from both of us.  Peers receive no salary, and get nothing extra for communicating they do.  Instead we receive a (modest) allowance for every day we attend the Lords (in the Chamber itself) or in Committee.   To be fair we should also say that these allowances are tax-free, so if a Peer is also earning a good salary elsewhere (I say ‘not guilty’ to that) the allowances are a useful bonus.  And, of course, some Peers are a great deal busier here than others, but it would be difficult to base the amount paid on the number of words we speak or write.  It certainly would be totally wrong to fix the sum paid by counting up the number of times each of us votes.  We do not want to be just ‘voting fodder’, voice-less sheep herded through the Division Lobbies!

Parliament should however take a serious look at the considerable number of Peers who have been awarded lucrative Government jobs at the heads of the various quangos.  It seems to me that people shouldn’t, at one and the same time, run Executive Agencies for Ministers and be a part of the legislature charged with scrutinising them.

10 comments for “Public Relations?

  1. Lords - Independent and Impartial ??
    20/03/2008 at 9:56 am

    Indeed so. I have been reading with interest in that august journal ‘Private Eye’ about Lord Truscott, Energy Minister. I am not going to damage my chances of being posted here, and Mr Hislop’s circulation, by repeating these allegations/facts [delete as appropriate].

    But as someone who thinks the Lords are doing a grand job, and without whose ‘checks and balances’ the other place would have absolute power [and we all know where that leads] I do find this conflict of interest you mention troubling.

    After all, the ‘independence and impartiality’ of the Noble Lords, not to mention their expertise on a wide range of things, and a hinterland outside the time-serving careerism of many MPs, is their ‘Unique Selling Proposition’. It is to be meddled with at your peril.

    p.s. How does one go about get a gig in the Lords ? I feel suitably qualified, being something of a ‘jack of all trades’. Is there a fast-track I could follow, for example by marrying a Baroness ? I regret to inform you that I am not smart, good-looking or rich, but I am, as they like to say, ‘available’.

  2. Lords - Independent and Impartial ??
    20/03/2008 at 10:16 am

    Two quick points – one serious, one flippant [I’ll leave you to decide which is which..]

    1/ The ‘Parliament Act’ exists to prevent the Lords defeating the ‘will of the people’ on manifesto commitments which the Government promised to put into primary legislation. Is there a kind of ‘reverse Parliament Act’ whereby the Lords can ensure that where the Government is seeking to welch on a manifesto commitment, they can ensure that they are held to their word ?? I’m not going to hint any more strongly than that…

    2/ Would it be possible to have a weekly feature [say on a wind-down Thursday, of some of the arcane processes and procedures in the Lords?
    For example, in the House of Commons one is not supposed to refer to other MPs by their names, and there are various other protocols. An insight into such protocols in the Lords would be an entertaining and useful way of better understanding the role of the House of Lords.

  3. 20/03/2008 at 12:25 pm

    regarding Goodman’s question: what tosh. its a conversation, not a broadcast, and in that sense if it is PR its certainly the right kind of PR. I think this is a great idea, and I will be watching with interest. Well done for making yourselves more available. Paradoxically it often seems the House Of Lords is more in touch with “the pulse of the nation” than our elected representatives.

  4. Malty
    20/03/2008 at 5:18 pm

    Do you not think that it would be advisable for all nine of you, before your blog advances much further, and confusion reigns in the heat of the battle, to get your heads together and produce a “statement of intent”.
    This would describe what it is you are about, what your goals are, what the main stumbling blocks are to you effectivley carrying out your duties.
    So little is understood by the taxpayer about your place of work that I would say that a statement by yourselves (pulling no punches) would go a long way to overcome the very real and understandable lack of trust we have in the political system.
    For your part you must see that 10 years of outright lies, halve truths, spin and political trickery have left us either cynical about, or disinterested in, the houses of parliament.
    The majority of us are fully aware that the inflation and unemployment figures given to us by Sauron & Co are cynical nonsense, as are most government generated statistics.
    I know you have already given some outlines regarding you blog.
    Go on..give us something to really get our teeth into, who knows, if we feel that your intentions are genuine social justice, we may even get behind you and help you shove.
    Are there really that many of you ?

  5. Valerie
    22/03/2008 at 11:48 am

    I listened to the Radio 4 programme and that has led me to track down this site. It is an encouraging step forward in communication and I shall return to it with interest as it is an accessible way to find out more about the workings of The Lords. It is refreshing to read about issues set out in truth rather than by those many of whom appear to have only their MP salaries and pensions figuring highly in decisions made.

  6. Henry Hillier
    22/03/2008 at 12:15 pm

    Elinor Goodman spoilt her interview by her remark about members of the Lords turning up to have a good lunch and collect their attendance allowances. Clearly – given the venal frailities of human nature – there no doubt are those who turn up as a profitable adjunct to their going to the theatre or doing a bit of shopping at Harrods (am I guilty of stereotyping?) but unlike the endemic graft of our self-serving MPs I believe those freeloading Lords are in the minority! Her remark was more worthy of a Sun/Radio 5 hack or Jim Naughtie! Shame on you Elinor!
    For my part, seeing on the Parliamentary Channel the largely-informed and considered Lords debates I consider they carry out a vital balance to the excesses and rubbish churned out by the other chamber. At the moment I believe they more reflect public opinion than do our loathsome MPs!
    Keep up the good work of this site.

  7. William BR Jeremy
    22/03/2008 at 2:33 pm

    Good to hear you on the radio Lord Tyler. You may remember the trip you took to Wales during the devolution referendum camapaign and our motor through Pembrokeshire – sinced moved to Kent. is your brother still in Brecon?
    I noted Elinor Goodman’s reaction to ‘PR’. It may be oversensitivity on her part for her profession, after the publication of Nick Davies book on journalism and PR. I think it is a brilliant initiative and the more people in publci life can engage with the public the better to combat cynicism, prejudice and ignorance about the importance of the publci realm. all power to all of your elbows! WJ

  8. 22/03/2008 at 7:16 pm

    i was listening to radio 4’s week in parliament and heard about the blogs.

    just a quick follow up request, could you write about your day to day activities, places you lunch, expenses you claim.

    all information would be much appreciated.

    by the way, i’m a member of the armed forces going OOA later this year

  9. Bedd Gelert
    24/03/2008 at 9:00 pm

    I think people are being unfair to Elinor Goodman – one has to ask an impertinent question to get a pertinent answer, and she is not in any way implying criticism of the Lords for this initiative – indeed she is giving you an opportunity to state your case and put your side of the argument.

  10. 27/03/2008 at 9:08 am

    I came in response to the article on the Week in Westminster. I just want to say that I’m glad that the House of Lords exists because I dread to think of some of the legislation that would have got through had the Lords not opposed/amended them.

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