Cruddas and cronyism: Johnson and the Lords

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The members of the House of Lords now number more than 830. This is ridiculous. It’s supposed to be 600. Boris Johnson has been Prime Minister for twelve months and has appointed 52 new peers.

It would be nice to think that he is ennobling those who have contributed to the good of society. But it comes as no surprise that, in fact, Johnson’s new peers have mainly contributed to the good of the Conservative party. Most are either vocal Brexit supporters, Tory donors, or frequently both.

Peter ‘Cash for Access’ Cruddas is a case in point. In many ways, he is an exemplary Johnson appointment. He is a Brexit supporter, a Tory donor and clearly has a flexible idea of adherence to the law. In 2012, the Sunday Times alleged that he had offered access to David Cameron and George Osborne, in exchange for cash donations of up to £250,000. Cruddas sued the newspaper but in 2015, the central allegation was upheld by an appeals court.

Last week, Cruddas was elevated to the House of Lords despite the fact that the House itself does not want him and specifically recommended that he not be appointed. Johnson ignored the recommendation and appointed him anyway.

The prime minister may be rewarding his new peers for their loyalty. His chumocracy is rampant, whether the chums are failing to sort out test and trace or clinging on to their jobs despite trashing the ministerial code.

But he may have another, more self-interested motive. The House of Lords has provided a number of checks to the power of his executive – the ping pong of the Internal Market Bill providing a recent example. It does not require enormous mental effort to suspect that Johnson is stuffing the upper chamber with those who can be relied upon to vote in whichever way he asks. In other words, this is another strand in the net of the power grab he is trying to cast over parliament.

It is telling that this government appears to feel that its policies alone are not going to win votes. We can only wish in vain that Johnson and his cronies would give the same priority to fighting the pandemic or sorting out Universal Credit as they do to wizard new wheezes to keep themselves in power forever.

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