Is Jeremy Corbyn attempting to foment the abolition of the House of Lords? His recent peerage nominations suggest so. Corbyn has put forward a former Speaker mired in bullying allegations who facilitated a parliamentary revolution. A failed apparatchik under investigation for her handling of anti-Semitism. And Tom Watson.
The former Labour deputy leader is perhaps the most reprehensible choice given his role in the Carl Beech affair. Beech, known as ‘Nick’, made multiple false allegations of sexual assault and murder, which led to the destruction of the careers, livelihoods and reputations of several men who truly served the nation.
But there is nothing inevitable about Watson being elevated to the Lords. The House of Lords Appointment Commission, which is responsible for vetting peers, can – and ought to – advise against Watson’s elevation.
The Commission’s website states that its role is to:
‘Advise the Prime Minister if it has any concerns about the propriety of a nominee. The Commission takes the view that in this context, propriety means:
i) the individual should be in good standing in the community in general and with the public regulatory authorities in particular; and
ii) the past conduct of the nominee would not reasonably be regarded as bringing the House of Lords into disrepute.’
It’s not clear what is meant by the typically vacuous word ‘community’. But it should be plain to the Commission that Tom Watson’s standing is pretty low amongst those with a common conception of fairness.
It is not just that Watson was gullible in his dealings with Carl Beech. This can be forgiven. It was the deliberately negligent actions he took after meeting him which are so damning. Sir Richard Henriques’ report into Operation Midland revealed that Beech claims Watson created a ‘support group’ for him; that Watson used his position as an MP to pressurise the Met to reopen closed investigations into Beech’s claims; and misrepresented the police interview process in relation to the wholly innocent Lord Brittan, who Watson went on to describe as ‘close to evil as any human could get’.
But what is particularly galling is that Watson himself still believes his conduct was justified because it supposedly did more good than harm, as he states in a recent interview with the Guardian: ‘Please look at the lifelong predatory child sex abusers who went to jail as a result of the evidence provided to the police from whistleblowers who came to me.’
Watson may have left his position as deputy leader of the Labour party, but his ego remains dangerously over-inflated. He either does not understand that his behaviour created new victims, or he simply sees men like Field Marshal Bramall and Harvey Proctor as collateral damage in his pursuit of child abusers.
There is a very good reason our society has such a high criminal burden of proof. It is worse for the innocent to go to prison than the guilty to get off. This is why we must assume innocence until guilt is established beyond reasonable doubt. But Tom Watson showed callous regard for these conventional morals and continues to adopt an altogether alien utilitarian approach to justice. Such a person should not be afforded a role in making legislation for a day, let alone for life.
In recent times some elevations to the Lords have grated due to the nominees’ lack of distinction (for example, Gavin Barwell). Yet none have been morally offensive. While the Commission has its part to play, it is the Prime Minister who is the ultimate arbiter. He will, of course, be aware of the dearth of public support for the House of Lords, and that the legitimacy of the institution depends on this support. If he does back the elevation of Tom Watson, it will seem the Prime Minister and Jeremy Corbyn are both in cahoots to bring about the end of the legislative body.