The House of Lords had the nearest thing it ever has to an almighty row on Wednesday. Peers on all sides are really angry that the Cabinet game of musical chairs seems to have ended up with no proper seat for the Leader of our House.
I know from experience at both ends of the building (having shadowed the Leader of the Commons for eight years) that the two Leaders have very considerable responsibilities to their respective Houses, over and above their Party and Government roles. Hence, members of were understandably upset that the new Leader – Baroness (Tina) Stowell of Beeston – had suffered an apparent demotion.
This would imply that the Prime Minister either rates the job as less important than others around the Cabinet table, or simply forgot that there was a limit on the number of people he could pay the full rate. Either way, it looks like a slap-in-the-face for the Lords. It’s not entirely clear whether the limit on numbers was actually some statutory restriction on how many could sit as full Cabinet members, or how many to whom he could authorise payment of the full salary. What made it even more cack-handed was that the appointment of a woman resulted in a sudden, sharp drop in salary from that of her male predecessor. Surely some mistake!
However, the point I would like to have made is that the decision to pay the shortfall on salary from Conservative coffers makes a bad situation worse. The Leader of each House has responsibilities to ALL Members, not just to colleagues in the Government let alone to one Party. We may have the greatest confidence in the integrity of our Leader but the perception will be that she is now at least partly accountable to Conservative Headquarters. People will naturally think “he who pays the piper plays the tune”.
Having just said Amen to a prayer which warned us against “partial affections”, this muddle will merely encourage suspicion rather than reassure.