At least three more reasons for Lords reform

By Mike Phipps

I wrote last month about nonentities receiving peerages at the hands of Boris Johnson – specifically Ian Austin, John Woodcock, Gisela Stuart and Frank Field. But it gets worse! Here are a few more recipients of Johnson’s patronage. The first two, Kate Hoey and Claire Fox,  are to be “non-affiliated peers” and Louise Casey is nominated as a crossbencher.

For Kate Hoey, it’s been a long journey from the heady days of the far left International Marxist Group to the red leather benches of Britain’s Upper House. It encompasses thirty years as the MP for Vauxhall, following a controversial selection process, in which Labour’s NEC imposed a shortlist which excluded the most popular candidate, Haringey councillor and Broadwater Farm activist Martha Osamor. In Parliament, Hoey was a maverick, voting against the Labour government policy on the war in Iraq, foundation hospitals, university tuition and top-up fees, ID cards and extended detention without trial. In the 2010 leadership election she even nominated John McDonnell.

But she also opposed Blair’s ban on handguns and smoking ban and supports grammar schools and fox hunting. In 2019 she was the only Labour MP to vote against allowing abortion and same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.

But it is for her ardent support for Brexit that she is being rewarded. She even criticised the BBC for   being “embittered remainers” who were “taking delight” in “undermining our country”. In July 2018 Hoey was one of five Labour MPs who defied the Labour whip to vote with the government on a Brexit amendment, which, if passed, would have required the UK to remain a member of a customs union with the EU in the event of ‘no deal’. In doing so, the five saved the government from defeat. In December 2019’s general election, she announced she would vote in Northern Ireland for the arch-conservative Democratic Unionist Party. She has been duly rewarded.

Claire Fox is another ex-leftist who has travelled far from her Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) roots to Brexit Party MEP. But her involvement in the RCP was not just a youthful dalliance. She was centrally involved in the leadership of this weird cult for two decades, co-publishing its magazine Living Marxism, later rebranded as LM, which closed in 2000 after the courts found it had falsely accused Independent Television News of faking evidence of the Bosnian genocide. Fox refused to apologise. So why has this genocide denier been rewarded with a peerage?

Again, the answer is Brexit. Fox and her co-thinkers moved in a libertarian direction in the 21st century and regrouped around the contrarian Spiked online website. Recent headlines include “Portland has been given over to the mob: Cowardly politicians let the protests spiral out of control”, “Keep masks out of the classroom” and “The left is turning into a Woke Taliban”. In 2019, Fox became a Brexit Party supporter and was elected as an MEP. Many of her old RCP comrades are now “fixtures in the Tory press”, noted one Guardian columnist.

Dame Louise Casey may have a less murky past, but she is no stranger to controversy. Appointed as “homelessness czar” under Tony Blair, with a mandate to reduce rough sleeping, she attacked homeless charities, including The Big Issue for keeping people on the streets. She initiated a “beggars hotline”, where people could donate money to homelessness charities, rather than giving money directly to beggars. It was axed after raising just £10,000 in its first winter, despite £240,000 being spent promoting it.

Casey’s Rough Sleepers Unit claimed to have reduced street homelessness in Britain by 70% between 1998 and 2012. But this was widely criticised after allegations of heavy-handed policing to encourage street sleepers to ‘move on’ so they would not be included in the tally.

In 2003, she became head of the Home Office’s Anti-Social Behaviour Unit, where she complained about “an obsession with evidence-based policy” in an after-dinner speech so off-colour and intemperate that some people reportedly walked out and Blair’s office had to leap to her defence.

After a stint heading up Blair’s “respect agenda” and then as Victims’ Commissioner, she worked on David Cameron’s Troubled Families initiative in 2011. Five years later, the National Institute for Economic and Social Research reported that there had been “no significant impact” of the scheme.

In 2014 Casey was appointed to lead the inspection of the children’s services at Rotherham council. Her damning report led the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to give control of the council to a team of appointed commissioners, but her findings were themselves criticised by social work academics for a lack of rigour and transparency. Her broader forays into community cohesion and extremism have been marked for their simplistic and populist soundbites.

These three join Ian Austin, John Woodcock, Gisela Stuart, Frank Field and many others in this latest batch of prime ministerial patronage. We could also mention Boris Johnson’s brother, who is given a peerage in what many see as an act of blatant cronyism, alongside press magnate Evgeny Lebedev, who in 2017 appointed former Chancellor George Osborne as editor of the London Evening Standard. It’s a cosy world, this self-serving elite – and it underlines the importance once more of disbanding the House of Lords.