Peerages: it's who you know, not what you know

William JordanUS Elections Editor
August 06, 2013, 4:27 PM GMT+0

46% of the British public think knowing the right people counts most for becoming a peer, and less than a quarter think it has to do with hard work or ability

Parliament’s upper chamber, the House of Lords, has been criticised in recent days after the government released a list of 30 newly appointed life peers, several of whom had given large sums of money to one or another of the country's major political parties.

YouGov research confirms that to Britons, it’s not your wealth that counts most towards you becoming a peer – it's the names in your address book.

According to 46% of the public, the number one most important factor for becoming a member of the House of Lords is “knowing the right people”. The next most popular choice was “having lots of money”, which 18% think is most important. In comparison, 16% think working hard and making big contributions is paramount, while only 7% say possessing natural talent and ability counts more towards winning a peerage.

The House of Lords Appointment Commission (the body that oversees the appointment of peers) lists eight criteria for new appointees, including “significant achievement”, “understanding of the constitutional framework”, and “outstanding personal qualities”. None of the eight criteria make direct reference to social connections or affluence.

However, it is unclear that House of Lords reform – which some argue should turn the House of Lords into a fully elected chamber like the House of Commons – would do much to change British minds about the standards for entry: British voters appear to expect much the same qualities of their duly elected MPs as they do of appointed peers.

While 20% of voters say hard work and 13% say ability take precedence for becoming a Member of Parliament, a majority of voters (52%) still place either social contacts (tapped by 39%) or financial means (by 13%) at the top of the list.

Britons are much more confident hard work and ability can lead to people receiving an honour such as an OBE, and MBE or a knighthood, like musician Sir Elton John, CBE or cyclist Sir Chris Hoy, MBE, have done.

Overall 52% think these honours are earned chiefly by either hard work and contributions to society (40%) or talent and ability (12%). Even here, having the right social network is perceived as most important by many, however, with more than a quarter (26%) saying “knowing the right people” counts most even for members of the Order of the British Empire, putting that criterium in second place.

The social factor was actually the most popular choice among over 60s, 38% of whom picked it as most important.

Earlier this week, a YouGov poll for the Sunday Times revealed that 77% of the British public think it is unacceptable that party donors be made members of the House of Lords.

This year's list of new appointees included the names of several people who had given money to political parties, like Tory party donor Sir Anthony Bamford and Labour donor Sir William Haughey, but also the names of Doreen Lawrence, the mother of Stephen Lawrence and a campaigner for justice, and Danny Finkelstein, the associate editor of The Times.

Image courtesy of Getty.

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