The real life Dunny-on-the-Wold? Welcome to the by-election with seven candidates and three voters

Lord Somerleyton outside Somerleyton Hall. Picture: Nick Butcher

Lord Somerleyton outside Somerleyton Hall. Picture: Nick Butcher

Suffolk's Lord Somerleyton is hoping to return his family to the House of Lords in a by-election with seven candidates and just three voters.

Hugh Somerleyton, who is eligible to stand after inheriting his father's title following his death in 2012, has put himself forward as a candidate in the upcoming Liberal Democrat hereditary peer by-election.

The by-election has been triggered by the death of Lord Avebury, who was part of the Liberal Democrat group – which has just three hereditary peers remaining.

The electorate consists of The Earl of Oxford and Asquith, who is descended from Herbert Henry Asquith, Liberal prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1908 to 1916; The Earl of Glasgow, who was a hereditary member from 1984 to 1999 and returned in 2005, and Lord Addington, who entered the House of Lords at the age of 22 after taking his father's title and becoming the youngest serving peer.

When Tony Blair's House of Lords reform was given Royal Assent in 1999, the then Lord Somerleyton was one of the 600 peers excluded from the upper chamber.


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And 17 years on his son wants to return the family to the political stage.

The 44-year-old, who claims his 'political heart' is with the Liberal Democrats, says he is a huge fan of former leader Nick Clegg and points to his liberal roots. He has a number of Liberal MP ancestors, including Francis Crossley who bought Somerleyton Hall in 1863.

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His decision to stand comes after a few years of being tied to work and young family life.

He admits it is unlikely he will be elected, adding that he believes that members of the House of Lords should not be younger than 50.

'I want my law lords who are tinkering with government policy to be eminent people who have been knocking around for a lifetime.'

But he hopes to join the upper chamber one day, believing he would bring conviction and free thinking to the job.

He also points to his experience of running the Somerleyton Estate and as an entrepreneur.

He set up the upmarket chip shop Hot Chip in Norwich, which currently has no Norfolk branch, but does have a shop in Brixton, south London.

'I like to think I would be a free and relatively radical thinking individual who might be able to bring something fresh.'

But it is also a desire to do public service that has prompted him to put his name forward.

'I have been brought up with a great sense of public service. In my mind it was always - rightly or wrongly - born out in the House of Lords.

'I know it sounds sentimental and is not particularly a vote winner, but there is a strong part of me, if I was considered good enough and there is a big question mark over that, I would very much like to give public service in that way.

'It is an interesting place to work and I am very lucky to have a theoretical opening.'

He has no expectation that he will be successful.

'I am in my mid-40s and not necessarily in this election as I have a lot of credits to go yet, but maybe in five years I will be in the right stage to have the right balance of energy and experience to bring something good to the upper house.'

But what about the principle of hereditary peers? Lord Somerleyton admits the old system of hereditary peers had been 'indefensible'.

'It doesn't sit with the human progress. How can you possibly have the same group of people in a chamber with power purely by birth right.' But he says the problem remains about what to replace the upper chamber with. 'The reality is that now we have got Cameron unashamedly putting a slew of grace and favour appointments into the House of Lords. 'Some of those are capable politicians and probably deserve it. Some don't. That to me is certainly no better than what went before and is in danger of becoming a US system of cronyism.'

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