A couple of days ago I posted about the telephone call that contained the offer to become a member of the House of Lords. This is what happened next.
Having accepted the offer, I was still sworn to secrecy. I filled in a form so my nomination could be vetted and then I heard nothing more. I discovered subsequently that this was quite normal, but it certainly felt strange. I was supposed to be reorganising my life, giving up full-time paid employment, creating an alternative income, but I had nothing in writing to say it was actually going to happen.
Despite the urgency with which I had been asked to make my decision (“We do need to know by the end of the week”), the rest of April 1998 and the whole of May passed without any announcement. And, of course, I knew that the Labour Party was quite capable of changing its mind about such matters.
Then in June a contact in the North East told me of a conversation about my putative candidature for the National Executive Committee of the Party. One of the trade union regional officials there had asked Peter Mandelson (very much a power in the land in 1998, although not quite to the same galactic extent that he is now – still “Prince of Darkness”, not yet “pussycat”) what he thought about me standing for the NEC. Apparently, Peter’s response was not entirely positive: “Toby Harris is precisely the wrong sort of person to be a member of the NEC – the last thing we want is another middle-aged, white, overweight, bearded local government leader from London.” So if that was the received wisdom about the NEC, what about the House of Lords?
At this point, I cracked and rang Downing Street: “Oh yes, you’re still on the list. It’s just that Tony’s been very busy with Northern Ireland and so on.”
Finally, at the end of the first week in July, a letter arrived saying my name had been forwarded to the Queen – and the formal announcement came seven days later.
If the wait had felt a strange and surreal experience, it was still no preparation for the process following the announcement up to the moment I was introduced and took my seat.