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Titles for Tories and fat cats

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Issue 1691

Behind Blair’s talk of modernising

Titles for Tories and fat cats

TONY BLAIR claims he is creating a “modern” and more “democratic” House of Lords. Yet the 33 new peers appointed by Blair last week show that his vision of “modernisation” is to stuff the chamber full of millionaires and businessmen. Blair has created 209 peers since the 1997 election. That is more in three years than Margaret Thatcher managed in 11. The Tories talk of “Tony’s cronies”. But the new House of Lords is stuffed full of billionaires and businessmen on all sides.

Last week Blair gave the go-ahead for a peerage for Tory party treasurer and billionaire tax exile Michael Ashcroft. The Tory Dame Sheila Masters, a partner in the accountancy firm KPMG and senior non-executive director of the Court of the Bank of England, was also appointed. Five of Labour’s “new” peers are the very hereditary peers who were booted out last November. They include:

  • Lord Grenfell, former senior official at the World Bank.
  • Lord Berkeley, former Eurotunnel executive, chairman of the Rail Freight Group and the Piggybank consortium.
  • Viscount Chandos, City banker and chairman of Lopex plc.

Other appointed peers include:

  • Parry Mitchell, chairman of IT company Syscap, who donated money to the trust that paid for Tony Blair’s office before the election.

He was once a candidate for the Social Democratic Party (SDP), which broke from Labour in the early 1980s.

  • Alexander Bernstein, a retired TV executive, listed as one of those who gave more than 5,000 to New Labour in 1998.
  • Janet Cohen, non-executive director and consultant at Charterhouse Bank Ltd, who donated 1,000 to New Labour.
  • Richard Layard, director for the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics.

Layard, who helped draft Labour’s Welfare to Work policies, is also a former SDP candidate.

These peers will be able to influence government policy. Yet they also hang on to their top jobs and business interests. Blair has also set up over 200 taskforces.

They are run by 2,500 unelected and unaccountable appointees. Many of the taskforces are headed by Tories such as Michael Heseltine, David Mellor and Lord Mayhew. Some 28 of Britain’s 100 biggest companies also have people on one or other of Blair’s quangos. As left wing Labour MP Tony Benn put it, “This is not modernisation but a throwback 500 years when the king appointed all the peers.”

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