Briefing: Hereditary peer by-elections, neither Liberal nor Democratic

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There are many quirks of the British constitution, but the by-elections for hereditary peers must be one of the oddest. In 1999, when Tony Blair's Labour government removed the automatic right of hereditary peers to sit, it was forced to compromise – 90 hereditary peers were kept as a temporary measure, to ensure the second stage of reform – which we're still waiting for 17 years later.

When one of these hereditary peers dies or retires (something they've only been able to do since 2014) they are replaced by another in a by-election. A Lib Dem hereditary Lord Avebury died last month, and so the remaining three (yes, that's right three!) Lib Dem hereditary peers chose the replacement using the Alternative Vote – the apparently very complicated electoral system the British public rejected in 2011.

The three Lib Dem peers have a difficult choice to make, seven people have come forward to replace Lord Avebury. The two frontrunners are likely Earl Russell (a descendent of Whig Prime Minster John Russell and the philosopher Bertrand Russell) and Viscount Thurso (John Thurso, a former Lib Dem MP, who lost his Highland seat in 2015). The others include perennial candidate Earl Carlisle, Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor (great-grandson of Liberal PM David Lloyd George), as well as Lord Calverley, Lord Kennet and Lord Somerleyton - I've never heard of them either.

Personally, I'll be backing Viscount Thurso. One of many Lib Dem MPs swept away in the SNP landslide last year. A hard working MP with recent experience, he'll be a valuable asset in the Lords. He seems pretty confident himself, having not submitted a manifesto, unlike the other six.

Although it's probably time to end the practice of by-elections for hereditary peers (after all they certainly don't fit in with the party's name), at least the Lib Dems are guaranteed to win a parliamentary by-election this year.

To see my view on House of Lords reform have a look at my blog post from 2014 and, as always, let me know your opinions by commenting below or tweeting me.

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Banner image courtesy of parliament.uk
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