The New Cabinet: A Gold Star for the Government
ResPublica Trustee Simon Lee on Paul Deighton's Lords appointment
The master-stroke of the first Cameron shuffle (mistakenly described in
many quarters as a re-shuffle) is to bring in Paul Deighton, the chief
executive of LOCOG, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic
Games. From January, he is going to join the Treasury, trying to ensure
that major infrastructure projects, necessary for economic growth and
social well-being, are delivered as effectively as for London 2012.
mark of his successful reign in bringing us such a successful Olympics
and Paralympics in London 2012 is that his appointment to government
seems so sensible. Yet in the current climate of hostility to banks, his
previous role as the European chief operating officer of Goldman Sachs
might have caused more boos than cheers.
Talking of crowd
reaction, Gordon Brown was not only cheered when he presented medals in
the aquatics centre, but he can be cheered by this appointment of an
outsider to government. For he made a point of emphasising, when he was
becoming Prime Minister, that he would appoint a government of all the
talents. Sometimes referred to, therefore, by the acronym of ‘GOATs’,
the idea of ministers brought from outside politics into the House of
Lords was a good one.
Not all the Brown goats were successful, of
course, although at least one, Sir Digby (now Lord) Jones, is convinced
that he was. Still, it was a good experiment.
The odd thing
about this government copying Gordon Brown’s idea is that we have been
told so often that all three main parties at Westminster are against an
unelected House of Lords. It was only last week that Nick Clegg
withdrew, with bad grace, the Coalition Government’s proposal to hold
elections for 80% of that House’s membership. His own preference, he has
emphasised, would be to do away with appointments to the House of Lords
altogether. He even maintained that he would never accept appointment
as a peer himself, much as Lord Prescott used to rail against the
unelected chamber where he now sits.
One month ago, Nick Clegg
explained that, "An unelected House of Lords flies in the face of
democratic principles and public opinion. It makes a mockery of our
claim to be the mother of all democracies. And - even if you put all of
that to one side - the ever increasing size of the Lords makes it an
unsustainable chamber. It cannot keep growing; reform cannot be forever
ducked". Yet it has been growing because the two parties in the
Coalition have appointed so many peers between them since the May 2010
election. It is growing by one more, quite rightly, by raising Paul
Deighton to the peerage.
Here at Disraeli Room, it has been
explained before by myself and others that Mr Clegg is confusing
democracy with majoritarianism. As Edmund Burke said, the constitution
is more than a matter of arithmetic. Yes, elections have a crucial role
in the mother of all democracies but unelected judges can be better
placed than politicians to protect the human rights of minorities.
Likewise, some appointed experts can bring wider experience and more
diverse talents to bear in the legislature and the executive than will
emerge simply from the ranks of those who seek election.
House of Lords is much improved from the time when Lloyd George
described it, in a quote recited with relish last year by Nick Clegg, as
being “a body of five hundred men chosen at random from amongst the
unemployed”. A constitutional democracy upholding human rights can, as
it happens, find a place for the random selection of citizens, for
example in the common law system of trial by jury. Nevertheless, the
appointment of a new peer of distinction is anything but random.
short, one of the reasons why our ragged constitution works, even if
nobody would have designed it that way, is that it provides
opportunities, as illustrated by the Coalition government ennobling and
co-opting Paul Deighton, of drawing on all the country’s talents.