Lady Tonge – an Apology

I was wrong. She is not a bully, a fool or a stooge. She is a comedian.

By George Monbiot. Published on the Guardian’s Comment is Free blog, 24th March 2006

I now realise that I have misunderstood Baroness Tonge. When she stood up in the House of Lords last week and accused the Gana and Gwi Bushmen of trying to stay in the Stone Age and of holding the Botswanan government to ransom by resisting eviction from their lands, I thought she was a bully, using her unelected position to attack some of the most vulnerable people on earth.

When she appeared on the Today programme two days later and – having found herself in a hole – started digging a mineshaft, I thought she was a fool.

When I started reading her Response column in the Guardian today, and read her angry reply to allegations which had not been made – that she has been bribed and that her integrity is in question – I began to wonder whether there might be more to this story than I first supposed.

But when I reached the bottom of her column, and read that she, like me, wishes to see the closure of the House of Lords, all became clear. I owe Lady Tonge an apology. She is not a bully, a fool or a stooge. She is a brave and brilliant political campaigner. She is trying to abolish the Upper House, and the method she has chosen is satire.

Her strategy works like this. First she accepts a peerage, styles herself “Baroness Tonge of Kew in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames” and adopts the airs and graces appropriate to that station. Then she selects the traditional topic of conversation in the House of Lords – evicting impoverished people from their lands – and hams it up magnificently. Then, in perfect mimicry of the peers who for centuries have claimed from those benches that they know what is best for the poor, she hilariously pretends that a land-grabbing exercise is in fact a social welfare programme.

She plays all this with a perfectly straight face, until her listeners are gasping with rage and incredulity, and demanding that she and all the other barons and baronesses are flung out on their arses and replaced with elected representatives.

Greater love hath no baroness than this, that a baroness lay down her credibility for her subjects. Instead of attacking her, as I have done, we should offer our gratitude for this extraordinary act of self-sacrifice. She has shown us what we must do. We must call for that which she most desires: her expulsion from the legislature, along with all the other unelected halfwits in the House of Lords.