Earlier this week BBC TV broadcast the first episode of ‘Meet the Lords‘, a behind the scenes portrayal within the UK’s House of Lords.
Contrary to the average expectation, it was extremely edifying and should, in my humble opinion, form part of the National Curriculum within schools in the UK and beyond.
There may be those who watch hoping to observe something they can joke about, in order to belittle the establishment as such, but apart from a reference to denier hosiery associated with formal dress, prerequisite of specific regalia but counter-balanced by the wearing of a rather neat dress-sword, I was quite taken with the first episode.
Contrary to those always willing to make a glib remark about anything and everything in life, I was taken with the sincerity of those who participated and the important role which was theirs in the overall political scheme of things.
Recently, it has been a criticism that Lords receive £300 a day and some have been reported for signing in then going AWOL.
The best retort I have heard regarding the same came surprisingly enough from a Noble Lord who had inherited his Title, that of Lord Palmer. He quite rightly pointed out that as a comparison, the average lawyer or accountant can charge £600 per hour and that is quite true.
When one considers that all the Noble Lords and Ladies have a life experience in at least one or two specific areas of expertise, if not more, added thereto the experience of life itself, which all culminates in a rich portfolio of knowledge and wisdom which can be brought to bear within discussions of various Government Bills to be considered by Their Lordships.
Lord Palmer’s own Estate (or Seat), is an amazing property but seemed at odds compared to the opposites represented within The House of Lords such as that of Lord Bird.
As many will know, Lord Bird was once homeless so knows what it is to sleep rough, and, in his youth, was not a newcomer to the wrong side of the Law, but miraculously, he rose through life to attain a Peerage and en route thereto he is known, of course, for starting sales of The Big Issue, the paper sold by the homeless and those who are still en route to a better life.
A few felt a little betrayed, I recall hearing a few years ago, having remembered that Lord Bird once said he would never accept an honour.
That aside, I do think he appeared sincere in his aims which seemed altruistic. Lord Bird’s Maiden Speech was a little ripe in linguistic terms and mode of presentation, but apart from a gentle warning concerning some descriptive terms he had utilised, which he promised on camera would not be repeated, he appeared to have the ability to win over any ‘house’, and it must be quite daunting, initially, as the new person in such an exclusive environment.
The long dining table and rules of seating was most democratic as it was reminiscent of old school rules for a bus queue – last one to join sits next to the last one already seated. It was jokingly remarked that this is really the way that an actress can sit next to a bishop!
One could see recognisable politicians of former times, though, like most of us, they had aged a little.
Despite disparate backgrounds whether inherited or earned, one listened and watched how they researched issues indepth, and could rally the troops to support special amendments they believed in strongly, so that during a debate they really could gather the right type of support during a division (vote).
The hours devoted on site could be equivalent of a double shift and considering their average age demographic I think such inner strength is laudable.
The cross-bench Peers or Independent Peers not attached to any political Party, can indeed carry a vote by adding to the numbers of one Party or another in a Division.
Amidst the finery and historic regalia and robes it was incongruous, but delightfully humorous, to see a Whip (the person responsible for rallying his Party’s Lords and Ladies to vote), checking on his Ipad that they had all been sent an email or text reminding them to listen for the Division Bell at a certain time.
Almost reminiscent of firemen reacting to their firehouse alarm, the Peers moved as fast as they were able along the corridors or down the stairs ready to go through the correct lobby to vote. I wondered if there was the odd banister or two that some may choose to slide down. Then again, I was rather concerned that some could fall and break a hip in their eagerness to dash along.
I look forward to the next episode of ‘Meet the Lords’ as the programme was produced in a respectful way but without losing the raison d’etre of this unique environment.
The political sword-crossing is more refined and sophisticated between Peers and is done with subtlety and gentility, but have no illusions, it is just as powerful because of that fact so should not be underestimated.
Well done BBC – this is a quality programme because the balance of its production is just right.
Photo (c) Hazel Speed – used by kind permision to Tuck Magazine