THERE is an excess of prissy comments on the revelations that many wealthy men find themselves ennobled not long after their cheques to party headquarters have cleared. It has always been so. There are a few peerages created for genuine achievement in the arts or sciences or on the battlefield. Most peers, certainly the hereditary ones, are created as rewards for political services either sleeping obediently through Cabinet meetings or for cash.
Do romantics think past ennoblements were born of high mindedness? Nobility is not bequeathed to many for nobility. The creation of peerages has always been about co-opting or silencing the powerful. So it should be. So it will always be. The present fashion for suggesting an elected House of Lords is to misread many centuries of history. It has always been a prescriptive institution. Sometimes membership is simply ex officio, such as with the archbishops or the higher judges.
Daniel Defoe, the English secret service agent in Edinburgh, negotiating the Act of Union with Scotland in the opening years of the 18th century wrote back to his masters in London, arguing that, although gold was a helpful lubricant, the most effective patronage was to hint to those Scots peers disposed to endorse the Union they may see their ranks enhanced lords to earls, earls to marquis, and some to a dukedom. If you look up the aristocrats of Scotland some of the most august titles can be dated to these events. Specifically they were Argyll, Seafield, Annandale, Carmichael, Glasgow, Stair and Lothian the current Tory MP Michael Ancram being the Marquis of Lothian.
So, Defoe has a really hot idea for Tony Blair. How about reopening the lists for titles with far greater appeal than footling life peerages? The market price seems quite open. It is £1m (E1.43m, $1.75m) per ennoblement though it helps to have done some ancillary good works or charitable gestures.
A New Labour earldom could have a tariff of, say, £5m. If I had the readies Id be willing to be a marquis for, shall we say, £10m. Dukedoms are not to be granted so lightly, but for about £50m donated (or loaned!) to the party of fairness and equality, any problems could be swept aside.
Let there be no priggishness from the Conservatives or Liberal Democrats. They trade contributions for these vanity appointments as willingly as Mr Blairs courtiers. A sweep through the past will confirm the truly noble of spirit receive no honours or decline them politely as did Michael Foot and Enoch Powell. Note also some wealthy men make a point of saying