POLITICS

Nick Clegg Accused Of 'Prostituting The Lib Dems' Over Lords Appointments

02/08/2013 15:55 BST | Updated 02/08/2013 20:02 BST
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LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 22: Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg speaks during a press conference at Admiralty House on May 22, 2013 in London, England. Mr Clegg spoke to members of the media about his Liberal Democrat party and the coalition with the Conservative party ahead of the next general election in 2015. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Nick Clegg could face questions at the next Liberal Democrat conference over his latest choices to be Liberal Democrat peers, a leading Liberal Democrat has warned.

Lib Dem activist Gareth Epps, who is chair of the party’s Social Liberal Forum, told The Huffington Post UK: “There’s a complete stench over the way patronage is used in these appointments.”

Epps, a former Lib Dem parliamentary candidate, suggested the the deputy prime minister had failed to listen to the membership’s suggestions for the best potential peers, as would be put forward by the party members’ interim peers’ panel.

“A number of people have got CVs that demonstrate significant amount of service, but that contrasts very sharply with others who have come in without that.”

“We have a party leadership that is more or less content to go with the status quo and it doesn’t really reflect the new politics.”

“The leadership has seen fit to ignore the will of the party, this will surely come up at our next conference.”

According to Epps, the leadership picked up just one out of the 10 candidates suggested by the party membership, former London Mayoral candidate Brian Paddick.

Epps’ concern was shared by former Lib Dem deputy chair Donnachadh McCarthy, who told the HuffPost UK: “Brian Paddick is the only legitimately elected member of the Lords from the Lib Dems on the list, all the other nine are not.”

The Lib Dems’ latest peers nominated earlier this week include ex-Somerset County Council leader Cathy Bakewell, ex-party spin doctor Olly Gender, Lib Dems’ Welsh President Christine Humphreys, party treasurer Sir Ian Wrigglesworth, former Clegg aide Alison Suttie, former MP Jeremy Purvis and two party donors, Ministry of Sound boss James Palumbo and entrepreneur Rumi Verjee.

McCarthy accused the Lib Dem leadership of “stealing” the peerage positions from grassroots members.

“If you steal a vote in a local council, that’s a criminal offence. You can take 9 seats from genuinely elected members of a political party, put in your cronies and not have anything happen. It’s the ultimate hypocrisy.“

“Nick Clegg has completely trashed the process of electing our party’s peers. He has prostituted the party.

McCarthy was especially stinging in criticizing Clegg’s elevation of party donors to the House of Lords. “If you want a peerage in the Lib Dems, we now know the price is £650,000.

"Nick Clegg's appointment of two party donors, his party treasurer and a number of his own personal advisers to the House of Lords over the heads of those duly elected by the party is neither liberal nor democratic.”

“The hypocrisy of a party leader who appoints nine people who have not been elected who includes his own cronies means that he is not fit to be party leader.”

McCarthy was deputy chair of the party but left in 2004 after party disagreements over stopping stop peers working as lobbyists, despite the practice being banned by the party.

“I said to them at the time, if you don’t put your house in order when you’re outside of government, you won’t be able to do it in government when the pressure will be 100 times harder

“Nick Clegg has betrayed the party’s Liberal and Democratic values. The party is infected with the disease of corruption. To become an effective healer of the body politic, we have to heal ourselves.”

A party spokesperson said: "I don't think any Lib Dem leader has ever picked the full tranche from the list [of suggestions for peers], it is there as a guide and ultimately it is a decision for the leadership."

Asked if Clegg could have picked just Brian Paddick from a recent list and ignored nine other worthwhile candidates, the spokesperson replied: "That is perfectly possible yes."

The spokesperson robustly defended the decision to elevate party donors Verjee and Palumbo to the House of Lords.

"Having myself gone out and leafletted with Rumi, I can guarantee that he has done campaigning and leafletting like the best of them.

"Support for the party shouldn't just entirely be based on how many leaflets you put through the door.

"As for Palumbo, when we were in difficulty moving from opposition into government, he gave us fantastic expertise. The party would not be where it is without their efforts."

The spokesperson acknowledged the process of democratically suggesting candidates for peerages needed improvement, blaming the furore of House of Lords reform for pushing it back.

"There is a group looking at how exactly we should reform this. We had hoped to get support in pushing for a democratically elected House of Lords, and all this recent controversy is a perfect example of why we need to reform this thing.

"Where we the media twelve months ago when we were trying to change it? We'd quite happily get rid of this whole thing altogether!"