WESTMINSTER, United Kingdom - The British Parliament got its latest member today, Viscount Thurso, who won every single vote in the House of Lords by-election, all three of them. His win will now entitle him to sit in the Upper Chamber of Parliament for life and claim up to $500 a day in pay.
The odd system came about as a compromise in 1999 between the then Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Conservative Leader in the Lords, Viscount Cranborne. The men agreed that the hereditary peers (those Lords who inherited their seats from their fathers) should be abolished. But they would be allowed to elect 92 of their number to stay in the Lords temporarily.
Each group in the Lords was given an allocation based on the numbers of hereditary peers they had overall. In the case of the Liberal Democrats this was just four. The strangest part of the system though was that when one of the four dies the remaining three elect one of the abolished hereditary peers to fill his seat.
Every so often therefore the three remaining Liberals go to the polls to elect someone to replace their fallen (or retired) colleague. In this case Viscount Thurso was a shoe-in because he became a Liberal MP after he lost his Lords seat in 1999.
He continued to represent the seat of Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross in Scotland until he was beaten in the 2015 general election by the Scottish National Party. His strong track record was why the entire electorate of three turned out to support him. The voters were The Earl of Glasgow, The Earl of Oxford and The Baron Addington, they had seven candidates to choose from, six of whom got no votes at all.
There have been 29 such by-elections since the Blair reforms of 1999, most of them in the Conservative group, which has a comparatively huge electorate of 41. Whereas Labour have just two hereditaries, meaning that when one dies the other one picks whoever he wants. Even under the old rotten boroughs the smallest electorate was 11, and they were done away with by the Great Reform Act of 1832.
In 1999 leaving 92 peers was described as ‘phase one’ of a two stage process that would see the hereditaries abolished altogether. However, the Conservatives (known as the Tories) are strongly opposed to any changes as the other members of the Lords are appointed by the government. Potentially giving the executive even greater powers.
The peer whose death caused the by-election, Lord Avebury, once remarked: “A more irrational and absurd way of making appointments would be difficult to imagine, but I know already, from a conversation with a very senior Tory, that they will do their best to scupper even this tiny step forward.”
And so the bizarre case of the three voter seat in the British Parliament looks set to continue. Alas anyone wanting to run would have to inherit a genuine British Lordship to qualify... Sadly the fake ones sold online just won’t do!