Stephen Benn, son of the maverick socialist MP Tony Benn, has claimed the lordship his father fought to renounce. He will now be formally known as Viscount Stansgate and by registering at the House of Lords is entitled to run in a by-election next month to elect two hereditary peers to sit for life.
Tony Benn was already an MP when he inherited the title from his father in 1960, and his elevation to the Lords disbarred him from sitting in the Commons. However, Benn argued he had a right to refuse the peerage and continue as an MP. He ran in the House of Commons by-election that was called to elect his replacement, but was not allowed to take the seat when he won.
In the end the House of Lords was reformed, allowing hereditary peers to renounce their titles. In these cases the title remains in abeyance until the death of the person who refused it, then their heir inherits it as normal. So when Tony Benn died his eldest son Stephen inherited it, but chose not to refuse it like his father had.
Since Benn renounced his peerage, most hereditary peers no longer have the right to sit in the House of Lords. Instead they elect 92 of their number to represent them, and when one dies or retires a by-election is held to replace them. Two such vacancies in the “crossbench” independent group have arisen and there will be a by-election on 26th November.
Any hereditary peer who has registered, as Lord Stansgate has, is entitled to run. The electorate for this by-election will consist only of the 26 crossbench hereditary peers already sitting in the House of Lords.
If Stephen is elected to the House of Lords, he will be the latest parliamentarian to come from what is now looking like a left-wing political dynasty. His grandfather was first given a seat in the House of Lords by Winston Churchill. His daughter is a Labour Councillor and she plans to run for Croydon South at next year’s general election.
The number of Labour candidates and MPs that come from political families is on the rise, with the younger generation dubbed the ‘Red Princes’. Jack Straw’s son Will is running for Rossendale and Darwen next year. Stephen Kinnock, son of the former Labour leader Neil Kinnock has been selected for the safe Labour seat of Aberavon in Wales. Whilst Euan Blair, son of Tony, has made attempts to secure a seat. Stephen Benn’s brother Hilary is already a Labour MP.
The number of Labour politicians getting safe seats because of family connections have led to allegations of nepotism.