The fifth Lord Mereworth is an unlikely revolutionary, but he may yet find a place in the pantheon of those whose work has secured lasting change. If so, he will be startled. His emergence from obscurity is down to the most unrevolutionary role he has adopted as leader of the latest example of "compensation culture" among dispossessed members of the Lords.

Along with 64 other ousted nobles, his lordship is proposing legal action for loss of property, seeking damages for compulsory removal from those maroon-padded benches. The privilege of sitting there very occasionally, as was the wont of most hereditary peers, would not earn much in the tariff of a county court judge. The fourth Lord M never spoke at Westminster and was obituarised as "the silent Lord". But the legal action is expected to tell a tale of much greater woe. Offers of company directorships, for instance, are said to be drying up.

This is curious, since the commercial world famously loves a Lord, and Mereworth is perfectly entitled to keep his title, along with its subordinate clauses of Oranmore and Brown. Or is he? The revolutionary potential of his action is the rich seam of historical skullduggery which is there to be mined by competent lawyers who will doubtless be the only real, financial, beneficiaries of this case.

Notoriously, most of Britain's grandest titles stem from the conquest of 1066, a change of power even less democratic than New Labour's sweeping re-election in 2001 on 40.7% of a 59.3% turnout. Mereworth itself, a pretty Kentish village with a fine Palladian mansion, may well belong to the descendants of Earl Leofwine who fell at Hastings; or perhaps to the Romano-British clan turfed out even earlier by the Anglo-Saxons. Neither claimant is short on the colourful baggage which may have been the greatest virtue of the hereditaries. The Leofwine family includes Lady Godiva, a title whose absence from Westminster the nation can genuinely mourn.



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