A former Liberal Democrat MP who lost his seat in the 2015 general election has been re-elected to the British parliament thanks to the votes of three Liberal Democrat-supporting aristocrats in one of the most bizarre examples of democracy anywhere in the world.
Lord Thurso, formerly the MP for Caithness in the north of Scotland between 2001 and 2015, has been returned to the House of Lords as a Liberal Democrat hereditary peer in a not-very-closely contested election that concluded on Tuesday.
Thurso, a former select committee chairman who is also known for his impressive facial hair, lost his House of Commons seat in the SNP landslide at the last election. However, his victory in the House of Lords election means he will now be able to sit in parliament, collect £300 a day, and vote on legislation for life.
The contest was for one of the Liberal Democrats’ slots for hereditary peers, which opened up following the death of Lord Avebury. Due to the partially reformed nature of the House of Lords, by-elections are called whenever one of the remaining hereditary peers – who have the inherited right to sit in the House of Lords thanks to titles given to their ancestors – dies or resigns.
The contest was open only to Liberal Democrat-supporting peers who inherited their titles, with Lord Thurso eligible because his grandfather had been given a hereditary peerage following his stint as Liberal party leader during World War II.
Only the three current Liberal Democrat hereditary peers were allowed to vote in the by-election: the 10th Earl of Glasgow, the 3rd Earl of Oxford and Asquith, and the 6th Baron Addington.
Although the ballot was conducted in secret, turnout was 100% and Lord Thurso received three votes, making it possible to draw assumptions about how each individual member of the electorate voted.
Just two votes were required to win the lifetime place in parliament.
Seven hereditary peers stood in the election, including a retired police officer and a peer who runs an upmarket fish-and-chip shop in East Anglia.
Lord Thurso, the successful candidate, was the only individual who did not submit a manifesto for the job, suggesting he already had the backing of the establishment. Thurso was already known in the House of Lords after previously sitting there as a hereditary peer until 1999. He could not be contacted to ask how he was celebrating his victory or whether he was happy with how the campaign had been fought.
The Liberal Democrats still have a substantial number of peers in the House of Lords and have used this to help defeat or delay Conservative government legislation on many occasions.
However, the party has faced a rebellion within its ranks over their decision to continue electing people who have inherited their titles into parliament. Lord Avebury's own son unsuccessfully called for the by-election to replace his father to be boycotted due to its farcical nature and pointed out that the notorious historic rotten borough of Old Sarum had more voters than this election.
"He had little time for the hereditary principle, and did not want to see it continue," Lord Avebury's son John Lubbock wrote.
"If reforming parties such as the Liberal Democrats want to be taken seriously, they should not embrace the mockery of this anachronistic election. Refusing to fill Avebury’s place would be a far more fitting tribute to his legacy."
Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Jim Waterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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