The unseemly debacle about the list of gongs and favours Boris Johnson tossed over his shoulder as he quit with all the decorum of a tantruming two-year-old has at least shone a light on the Crusty Chamber, aka the House of Lords.
Like every British institution, it creaks with rust so desperately need of reform and modernisation.
A second chamber is needed in a democracy, but hereditary peers, bishops and the randomly rewarded is not the answer. There are 92 hereditary peers with seats and the chamber conjures up a distinct whiff of a musty stately hall.
A second chamber is a crucial back stop of scrutiny and check if it works right.
If it remains entitled, hereditary, filling with gratitude appointments and a mere nod to meritocracy, it won’t work.
Today, it’s tarnished and anachronistic.
However, the fuss, ageism and sniffy jibes about 29-year-old woman, Charlotte Owen becoming the UK’s youngest life peer has been disturbing.
In a chamber where less than a third are women and the average age is 71, the perspective of a young woman living in a very different era is surely a good thing amid a groundswell calling for modernisation.
The huffing and puffing that she only entered Downing Street’s political office to cover for another official’s maternity leave is unseemly.
And the patronising dismissive: “She was just incredibly junior” was enough to turn me into Owen’s biggest cheerleader.
I have no knowledge of capability for incisive scrutiny of legislation, however, her lack of Oxbridge background, emerging from the University of York with a 2:1 in politics and international relations surely goes in her favour.
Every institution chunters on and on about diversity but does little about it. Perhaps this is Johnson’s strike for a more diverse second chamber.
Born in 1993, Owen is a millennial. Millennials face very different issues to the Baby Boomers and the general House of Lords member profile.
Millennials, who have not enjoyed the free education, final salary pensions, early property ownership, have very different priorities and motivators. They care about climate change, environmental protection, affordable healthcare, equal access to healthcare, immigration reform and diversity
Millennials are principled, passionate, and are accepting they will have it tough for their adult life.
We can learn a lot from them, and all young people. Different perspectives bring value and depth. They are not afraid to challenge, hold to account and ask why changes can’t be made.
The worst thing to say to a millennial is “It’s always been done this way”.
We moan about cronyism then balk at something fresh, left-field and unconventional.
Are we saying there should be an age limit on Lords entry? Would the same fuss have been made if the youngest ever life peer had been male? Are we saying we only want viscounts, barons and baronesses?
There’s not been much traction achieving reform from outside. By making the membership more diverse, change could come from within.
But how do the Lords respond? By calling for more controls on who is allowed in. Another example of the privileged and entitled closing ranks.
A seat in the Lords should not be membership of a club. It comes with immense responsibility, a vital input into the rules that affect people.
Owen could be the vanguard of it morphing into something more effective and democratically legitimate.
Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, has said he would abolish the “indefensible” House of Lords. A new name wouldn’t go amiss in modern Britain, and a wholly elected second chamber.
But with a long list of institutions crying out for radical reform, it’s not at the top of the list, so gradual changes are vital, including appointments of the profile of Owen.
House of Lords members don’t get salaries but have attendance allowances of £342 a day with travel expenses.
The 92 hereditary peers are chosen by peer-vote only by-elections and only hereditary peers can stand, with quotas on how many can represent each party.
And the fact that Iran is the only other country in the world that gives its clerics of their national religion votes in legislatures when no other faith has the privilege should make us seriously question our second house, as level-headed as our bishops might be.
Charlotte Owens might well be the start of something wholly significant and welcome.
Justice needed for Joanna
On Halloween 2010, Joanna Simpson was hit over the head 14 times by ex-BA pilot Robert Brown as their two children played nearby.
He put her in his car boot and took her to a pre-dug grave. The killing, a week before their divorce was finalised, followed a long period of domestic abuse, including coercive control intimidation, serious violence and isolation.
At trial, Brown was acquitted of murder, but found guilty of manslaughter due to diminished responsibility and sentenced to 24 years for manslaughter and another two years for an offence of obstructing a coroner in the execution of his duty.
He is eligible for parole in November, after serving 13 years of his 26-year term.
Joanna’s mother, Dianna Parkes, 83, is campaigning to block his release through the Joanna Simpson Foundation was set up in her memory and has set up a petition.
How is this justice? We must all hear Joanna’s story and do what’s right in her memory.