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Nick Clegg: While he did accept a knighthood in this year’s New Year’s honours list, he has not taken ermine (Chatham House CC BY 2.0)

Former Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg is leaving Brexiting Britain for Palo Alto, California, to take on the role of head of global policy and communications for Facebook at a reported annual salary of over £1 million. After he ignominiously lost his Sheffield Hallam seat in the 2017 general election, one would have expected him to be promptly raised to the House of Lords. While he did accept a knighthood in this year’s New Year’s honours list, he has not taken ermine.

Indeed, none of the “Quad” of top players in the 2010-15 coalition government — all now outside the Commons — are in the Lords. Former Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, also knighted, has moved to Beijing and is a Vice President of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, a sort of regional World Bank. George Osborne apparently lobbied hard for Alexander to be given this role as a consolation prize for losing his seat in the 2015 crushing of the Lib Dems. Osborne himself has famously taken on eight jobs, including the editorship of the Evening Standard and advising the US fund managers Blackrock at £650,000 a year for one day’s work per week. David Cameron is busy with his memoirs and a slew of advisory roles, most controversially heading up a £750 million fund to improve road, rail and shipping links between China and the countries it trades with.

The House of Lords — and indeed the Commons — has  become a place not to be seen in by former prime ministers. The last one to accept a peerage was Margaret Thatcher. Before that, with two readily explainable exceptions, all former prime ministers since the start of the 20th century who were not already peers (Salisbury) or died while still serving as an MP (Campbell-Bannerman, Bonar Law, MacDonald and Chamberlain) were raised to the peerage. The exceptions were Sir Winston Churchill, who lived on for only four months after retiring from the Commons just short of his 90th birthday in 1964, and Sir Edward Heath, who quit the Commons aged 84 in 2001, 27 years after leaving Downing Street. Not so long ago, it would have seemed most odd that John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Cameron — all men who could still offer much in public life — decided to forgo their place in the Lords.

What has changed? Major and Blair were the first two prime ministers to create serious wealth for themselves after leaving office. This is now a route open to all former prime ministers — with the possible exception of Jeremy Corbyn, should we be unlucky enough to see him elevated to the highest office. Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan lived modestly after leaving office.
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