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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > Aug-18 > The ermine election

The ermine election

The House of Lords is even more absurd than you think

On the day that Americans were celebrating the birth of their republic, back in Britain an election was taking place that perhaps reminded them of why they broke free in the first place. There were 19 candidates, and just 31 voters. One candidate’s manifesto regretted that he could “only offer… my right-side of the brain.” A second mentioned his membership of a glee club called “The Noblemen and Gentlemen’s Catch Club.” A third was written in a cadence which brought expensive wine to mind: “Age and experience is a given, an element of ‘youth’ and modern experience is as well a proven mix for the House.” The winner, after an exhaustive six rounds of voting, was the Earl of Devon, whose father famously banned gay marriages at his castle. His family motto is Floret Virtus Vulnerata: “Virtue Flourishes (although) Wounded.” He is married to a former Baywatch star.

This is a hereditary by-election, a process by which aristocrats, like the heroes of 17th-century novels, can fight to win back their ancestral place in the world—in this case in the House of Lords. Traditionally, the whole of the Upper Chamber, bar a few Bishops, was appointed in this way, elected from among those whose great-great-great-grandfather had happened to be “in” with the monarch and been rewarded with a title. Then came the Life Peerages Act of 1958, a mid-20th century Conservative government’s idea of “reform.” It created a new class of peers, with titles and seats which “only” lasted for life, and that is how all those retired statesmen, mandarins, professors, businessmen and occasionally more glamorous denizens of theatre and the arts have gone into the Lords ever since. They took their seats, however, alongside the old guard.

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In Prospect’s August issue: Zoe Williams argues that the first thing we need to do if we are to remain in the EU is to tackle the reasons why so many wanted out—namely pay and conditions at home and the impact of unfettered capitalism. Prospect’s Alex Dean and Tom Clark interviewed former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg who says the liberal centre should keep the faith—there is another way to work closely with Europe, but the immigration question is central to finding that solution. Meanwhile, a group of writers including Wolfgang Münchau, Shashank Joshi and Owen Hatherley explain some of the pitfalls, prizes and things you hadn’t thought about when it comes to the UK’s relationship with the EU. Elsewhere in the issue: Former UK diplomat Tom Fletcher profiles the out-going UN human rights chief who is causing a stir by saying the things nobody else would dare. Steve Bloomfield asks what happened to Seymour Hersh—how did the legendary journalist come to echo the thoughts and ideas of Bashar al-Assad; and Phil Ball examines the crisis of male infertility asking: where has all the sperm gone?