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‘Lordy Me!’ Can donations buy you a British peerage? A study in the link between party political funding and peerage nominations, 2005–2014

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Abstract

Trust in political institutions has declined across developed democracies. One of the main reasons cited for this lack of trust has been the role of money in politics, while standing up to ‘big money’ has been a common rallying cry of populists of both left- and right-wing variants. Political scientists have tried to examine the role of big money in two main steps: firstly, by showing that money can buy access to legislators; and, secondly, that legislators are thereby more responsive to the wishes of donors when writing and voting on laws. Researchers have used experiments and other techniques to show that Congressional staffs are more responsive to requests from donors compared to others and have also shown aggregate trends in responsiveness to the preferences of the wealthier. In this paper we try and go one step further: to show that donors can become legislators. We do this by looking at the example of the House of Lords. Compiling an original dataset of large donations and nominations for peerages, the authors show that, when the ‘usual suspects’ for a position, like former MPs and party workers, are accounted for, donations seem to play an outsize role in accounting for the remaining peers.
Vol.:(0123456789)
British Politics (2020) 15:135–159
https://doi.org/10.1057/s41293-019-00109-4
ORIGINAL ARTICLE
‘Lordy Me!’ Can donations buy you aBritish peerage?
Astudy inthelink betweenparty political funding
andpeerage nominations, 2005–2014
SimonRadford1· AndrewMell2· SethAlexanderThevoz3
Published online: 14 March 2019
© Springer Nature Limited 2019
Abstract
Trust in political institutions has declined across developed democracies. One of the
main reasons cited for this lack of trust has been the role of money in politics, while
standing up to ‘big money’ has been a common rallying cry of populists of both
left- and right-wing variants. Political scientists have tried to examine the role of
big money in two main steps: firstly, by showing that money can buy access to leg-
islators; and, secondly, that legislators are thereby more responsive to the wishes of
donors when writing and voting on laws. Researchers have used experiments and
other techniques to show that Congressional staffs are more responsive to requests
from donors compared to others and have also shown aggregate trends in respon-
siveness to the preferences of the wealthier. In this paper we try and go one step
further: to show that donors can become legislators. We do this by looking at the
example of the House of Lords. Compiling an original dataset of large donations
and nominations for peerages, the authors show that, when the ‘usual suspects’ for
a position, like former MPs and party workers, are accounted for, donations seem to
play an outsize role in accounting for the remaining peers.
Keywords Party funding· Donations· House of lords· Populism· Money in
politics· British politics· Influence
* Simon Radford
sradford@usc.edu
1 University ofSouthern California, LosAngeles, USA
2 Corpus Christi College, Oxford University, Oxford, UnitedKingdom
3 Nuffield College, Oxford University, Oxford, UnitedKingdom
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
... There is recent UK research suggesting donations can also have a direct impact on who attains political office, undermining political equality in a different way. The researchers ( Mell et al, 2015, p.25) provide evidence that "big donors" are disproportionately likely to be nominated for elevation to the House of Lords. Mell and his colleagues say that while this does not prove causation, the odds of this being pure coincidence "are roughly the same as those of entering Britain's National Lottery five consecutive times, and winning the jackpot on each occasion." ...
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