Johnson’s List of Peerages Highlights His Hypocrisy and Makes a Mockery of British Values
On Friday, Boris Johnson granted his first full set of peerages since becoming Prime Minister in 2019. The House of Lords will see many new faces, both Conservative and Labour, as well as some fringe figures. The Upper Chamber of the UK Parliament has always caused controversy. Some admire the tradition and the function it plays in our democracy, whereas others would like to see its’ size reduced or have it replaced altogether by an elected Senate. Despite many Brits disliking the concept of Peerages, most would agree that if they are given, they should be awarded to those who uphold British values of respect, hard work and fair play. However, Johnson’s list reeks of cronyism and hypocrisy.
In normal times, the elevation of former Labour figures Gisela Stuart and Kate Hoey to the Lords by a Conservative Prime Minister would be seen as a noble act – one criticism of previous leaders is that they have filled the chamber with their own party members, to reduce the chance of their legislation being amended from above. But since 2016, the Brexit debate has turned the political landscape on its’ head and both women are now among Johnson’s most ardent supporters, due to their shared support for Brexit. Whilst there is nothing wrong with Brexiteers being nominated, one would assume that having railed against unelected bureaucrats making our laws in the European Parliament, principle would dictate that both would turn down the opportunity to become unelected bureaucrats making our laws in the British Parliament? Nope. Both Stuart and Hoey took to Twitter yesterday to announce their intentions to take up the roles offered to them.
Although Johnson himself can’t be entirely blamed for Stuart and Hoey’s double standards, he has questions to answer with regards to the nominations of Jo Johnson and Evgeny Lebedev. Any Prime Minister who decides to reward his brother is unlikely to escape accusations of nepotism. It would be possible to point to Jo Johnson’s resignation as a Conservative MP in protest at Boris’ Brexit plans and paint this latest decision as an impartial attempt to counter-balance the views of the Brexiters, but offering a family members a legislative role is an unprecedented step which no Prime Minister in recent history has dared to take. Similarly, the appointment of Lebedev, an enthusiastic supporter of Johnson and donor to the Conservative Party, who has been pictured with the PM at multiple social events, is a clear example of cronyism.
Despite this, the most troubling name on yesterday’s list was Claire Fox. A former member of the Revolutionary Communist Party and Brexit Party MEP, Fox has swung across the political spectrum with a variety of concerning stances and is completely unfit to take her place in the Lords. Her sympathies with the IRA, an organisation which murdered British citizens, have received some media coverage. In the aftermath of the IRA attack in Warrington, the Revolutionary Communist Party, which she was a member of at the time, defended "the right of the Irish people to take whatever measures necessary in their struggle for freedom" in the aftermath. During her campaign to become MEP for North West England (a region which Warrington is part of), she refused to apologise for these views, which suggests that that she still holds them. Considering how heavily the Conservative Party rightly focussed Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell’s past associations with IRA sympathisers during both the 2017 and 2019 General Elections, you would assume that Conservative MPs would be uncomfortable with Fox’s promotion – yet no dissent has so far emerged.
Incredibly, these sympathies aren’t Fox only disturbing views. In a radio interview, she argued against the removal of child pornography and jihadi videos, claiming that “this is about fighting censorship and fighting for free speech.” Even ignoring the morality of that viewpoint, the implication that the vast majority who recognise the need to block access to abusive content online are somehow against the concept of free speech is absurd. The Former MEP is also yet to address her associations with the RCP’s former magazine Living Marxism, a publication which Fox contributed to, which folded after making accusations that the media had faked evidence of the Bosnian genocide during the late 1990s. The icing on the cake is that Fox has recently cited her opposition to the House of Lords but is yet to announce that she will be turning down Johnson’s offer.
In these increasingly polarised times, everyone in society should be doing their bit to combat dishonesty, violence and conspiracy theories. However, through his list of peerages, the Prime Minister has shown he is willing to reward those who show sympathies to all three – which couldn’t be further from his “take back control” rhetoric of 2016. The Lords should be a platform given to those who have achieved extraordinary things and championed worthy causes, not dangerous extremists or ex-MPs who have sold their souls for money or status.