On the third Viscount Stansgate

So, Tony Benn’s son has indeed taken up the title, as I mused some time ago that he might. Of course, that doesn’t mean he’s in the House of Lords. The system there is a little tricky.

Some here will know all of this but for those who don’t it’s an interesting little look at how the English/British system is a never ending series of kludges and temporary expedients.

So, back in the late 90s, Blair et al decided to get rid of the hereditaries from the Lords. Better to have an all appointed House they thought, perhaps along the lines of the Canadian Senate (?). That most of the hereditaries would, on the very few occasions they showed up, vote Tory had nothing to do with it of course.

Frantic rearguard action by one of the Cecil family (who have been in the Lords under various titles, and at times more than one of them, for many centuries now) led to most of the hereditaries being dismissed from the House, but 92 remained. These were selected by election among the hereditaries, the hereditaries themselves being both the electorate and the candidates.

But it goes further. Those who would enter the House now have to wait until someone dies and there is thus a space available in that 92. Then the hereditaries who are still in the House (I think that’s right) get to vote on which hereditary not in the House will fill that vacant seat. But that electorate is split along party lines. So, if a Tory peer dies, then it is the Tory peers who vote on which Tory will take the seat. That’s also true of the Crossbench and Labour, and should probably be true of LibDems and UKIP (the Greens have no hereditaries).

So, when Matt Ridley recently stood it was because some Tory had popped his clogs, he stood as a Tory and it was the hereditaries taking the Tory whip who voted. I’m pretty sure that’s what the system is, that’s the way it was explained to me at least.

Very much dead man’s clogs. Which gives us the Viscount Stansgate:

At least the new Viscount Stansgate can’t actually sit in the Lords now that hereditary peers are banned. That’s where you’re wrong. Ninety-two hereditaries are still allowed to sit in the Lords. Benn hopes to represent Labour.

Are there a lot of Labour hereditary peers? Four, at the last count.

He’ll face an electorate of three.

Which is, of course, three more than most other members of the House face at any time in their lives.

10 thoughts on “On the third Viscount Stansgate”

  1. So Much for Subtlety

    So, if a Tory peer dies, then it is the Tory peers who vote on which Tory will take the seat. That’s also true of the Crossbench and Labour, and should probably be true of LibDems and UKIP (the Greens have no hereditaries).

    What a fun little constitutional problem. The problem here is that the number of Tory peers can never change. The Tories, Labour Party, LibDems et al have a representation that is frozen in time forever. Every time one Tory dies, he is replaced by another Tory. Look at the collapsed of the old Liberals and the rise of the Labour party. If we had this system one hundred years ago, the House of Lords would still be split between the Tories and a now defunct Liberal party.

    The only way it can change is if someone defects. But if they are elected by the peers of one party, do they have a moral obligation to step down and stand again for the other? As I notice two UKIP defectors have done in the lower House.

  2. And do note that his daughter Mly (25) has got a constituency to stand for in the general election. To be a 5th generation Labour MP is her aim: Ramsay Mac would be astonished.

  3. The 92 hereditaries still in the house are:
    The Earl Marshal
    The Lord Great Chamberlain
    15 Deputy Speakers, elected by the whole House
    42 Conservatives
    28 Crossbenchers
    3 Liberal Democrats
    2 Labour

    By convention, the 15 deputy speakers are 2 each Labour, Crossbench and Liberal Democrat and 9 Conservative; they are elected by the house as a whole (including life peers), but votes will generally be cast to ensure that a peer of the same party replaces an outgoing one.

    Deputy speakers do get to vote in partisan by-elections, which is why Labour ones have three voters and Lib Dem ones have four.

    No elected hereditary has ever defected, so it’s not clear what would happen in that situation.

  4. “42 Conservatives
    28 Crossbenchers
    3 Liberal Democrats”

    Does that mean that the great Whig families have become Conservatives? I blame that Lloyd George.

  5. @ dearieme
    Gwilym Lloyd George became a Conservative peer, Megan Lloyd George a Labour MP.
    IMHO, when Margaret Thatcher was PM her policies were more Whig than Tory.

  6. @ dearieme
    Sir Denis Thatcher attended a Nonconformist Public School (i.e. a Public school set up to educate the sons of middle-class Nonconformists who were not acceptable to most of the previously established Public Schools) and was “in Trade” (actually manufacturing industry) before and after serving in WWII, so his natural home would have been among Whigs rather than high-church and/or aristocratic Tories. Admittedly a small Whig family rather than a great one!

  7. Fair point. I suppose I should have said Roberts, though you’ll then show me they had been Liberals too. Thus, from WKPD:

    “Roberts was an “old-fashioned liberal” who believed strongly in individual responsibility and sound finance. He had read and admired John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty. He came from a family that traditionally voted Liberal but he believed that the Liberal Party had embraced collectivism and that the Conservatives stood for the old liberalism. His daughter Muriel recalled that Roberts “was always a Liberal at heart”. In the 1935 general election, Roberts helped the local Conservative candidate Victor Warrender to win the seat.”

  8. Golly, Tim is correct. I thought the electorate was all the hereditaries of that party, but having looked it up on the House of Lords website it is indeed only the ones who are already elected to sit.

    Interestingly the candidates do not have to be of the relevant party. Although since the electorate is, presumably anyone else would have rather a job winning.

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