The new BBC series is “the first proper peer that television has taken at the peers”by Philip Collins / February 27, 2017 / Leave a comment
It has been said that satire is dead but this programme proves it’s not. It just has to take on more subtle forms. Whether it means to or not, the BBC’s new series Meet The Lords, the first proper peer that television has taken at the peers, succeeds in making its subject absurd. The case for reform has rarely been more gently made.
In the first episode, “Joining the Club,” talking peers are assembled to voice the usual defences of the Lords. The expertise, the non-partisan discussion, the amendment of ill-considered legislation that comes down from the House of Commons. We see John Bird, the founder of the Big Issue who used to work in the kitchens in the Palace of Westminster, introduced to the House. We witness his slightly artless attempts to settle in—he even says a naughty word, for which he is gently told off by Black Rod.
Attempts by peers to amend the government’s bills on housing and welfare provide the arc of the story. As Michael Dobbs puts it, the Lords are like the worms in the compost making something more fragrant out of a stinking mess. The government ends up losing the vote in the Lords on housing and Oona King manages to win a concession from the government such that parents of adopted children will be eligible to receive child benefit. So the film adds the case that the House of Lords does its job and, to paraphrase Gilbert and Sullivan, does it rather well.
The case for the defence is all there yet the prosecution is so delicious. We see Black Rod putting on his stockings and discussing denier, the man on the door saying that morning only ends when prayers are said, conversations about the milk pudding being like that at school, the Queen’s most senior herald in fancy dress. David Blunkett admits that people are ennobled because they give money to political parties. Norman Tebbit, a stranger to irony, laments the fact that so many Lords are appointed just because of who they know. Peter Hennessy points out caustically that the only elected people in the Lords are the hereditary peers. “This is the Ealing comedy that never gets made,” he says. They even wheel on…