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Johnson Loyalist Baroness Charlotte Owen Nails her Colours to the Mast in First House of Lords Votes

The youngest ever life peer cast four failed votes with the Government before she’s even made her first speech

Now Baroness Charlotte Owen (right), watches Boris Johnson resign as Conservative Party Leader last year. Photo: PA/Alamy

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Boris Johnson appointee Baroness Charlotte Owen has made her first votes in the second chamber by siding with the Conservative whip against several progressive amendments to the Levelling Up Bill. 

Owen – the youngest ever life peer in the House of Lords aged just 30 – was appointed in July, as one of several uber-allies in disgraced former Prime Minister Johnson’s resignation honours list. 

Before she has even made her maiden speech or spoken in the chamber, she took the opportunity to vote down – unsuccessfully – a series of opposition changes to the Government’s Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill on Monday night. 

Passed – Amendment 164: Saving bank branches from closure

“The Secretary of State must engage with local authorities to devise strategies to reduce the number of high street financial services becoming vacant premises … For the purposes of this section high street financial services includes but is not limited to banks, post offices and cash machines”

Speaking up for the amendments, Labour’s Baroness Hayman said: “I believe very strongly that we need to protect banks, post offices and cash machines on our high streets by placing a new duty on the Secretary of State. I am sure anyone who lives in any kind of rural community will have seen the number of bank branches in their local high street diminish substantially. 

“Where I live in Cockermouth, I think we now have one bank left—and of course that is a continuing story. I looked at the figures. From 1986 to 2014, the number of bank branches on our high streets pretty much halved, which is an extraordinary number of closures. Unfortunately, that has continued and hundreds more have been closed this year…[Banks are] now predicting more closures.”

The amendment passed with a majority of just five votes, with Labour, crossbenchers and Liberal Democrats joining forces.

The Conservatives have slashed the size of the opposition majority in the Lords through ramming through appointments since 2010. Johnson appointed the highest number of peers of any PM for decades. 

Passed – Amendment 190: More scrutiny of ministers’ decisions on levelling up

Part of the motion read: “Before designating a policy as a national development management policy for the purposes of this Act the Secretary of State must carry out an appraisal of the sustainability of that policy….

“The policy [should be] approved by resolution of the House of Commons after being laid before Parliament….

“A policy may not be designated a national development management policy unless—(a) it contains explanations of the reasons for the policy, and (b) in particular, includes an explanation of how the policy set out takes account of Government policy relating to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change.”

The Lib Dems’ Baroness Thornhill said: “Parliament and the public should and must be able to scrutinise [development policies]….I accept that the Minister has genuine concerns, but as my nan used to say, ‘Fine words butter no parsnips’.”

The Government – and Baroness Owen – lost by just six votes.

As with all these amendments, the Government is likely to try and overturn it in the Commons. 

Passed – Amendment 191: Planning decisions must help to hit climate goals

Part of the amendment reads: “The Secretary of State must have special regard to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change in preparing—(a) national policy, planning policy or advice relating to the development or use of land,(b) a national development management policy…

“When making a planning decision…the relevant planning authority…must have special regard to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change,” including reaching Net Zero by 2050. 

Crossbencher Lord Ravensdale said: “The amendment aims to ensure that climate and the environment run as a golden thread through town and country planning, rather than the inconsistent picture at present….

“We are pushing not only for the key sustainability and economic benefits here; this is also key to empowering local authorities to do their bit in working towards net zero. Many of them have such ambitions: they want to do their bit but they are being held back by the current planning regime.”

The amendment passed, with the Government losing by 10 votes. 

Passed – Amendment 191A: Healthy homes for all 

“The Secretary of State must promote a comprehensive regulatory framework for planning and the built environment designed to secure—(a) the physical, mental and social health and well-being of the people of England, and (b) healthy homes and neighbourhoods….

“The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision for a system of standards that promotes and secures healthy homes on condition that certain requirements prescribed in the regulations are met.”

Crossencher Lord Crisp told the chamber the change “places health and well-being firmly at the heart of planning for the built environment; stresses the links between an individual’s health and the neighbourhood in which they live; and provides a clear aim for the whole planning and regulatory system”.

He added: “If adopted [it] will have a positive impact on the quality of housing and neighbourhoods, should reduce the likelihood of new slums being created and truly help to level up. 

“It will also have a positive financial benefit by reducing the massive cost of poor housing to, for example, the NHS. I will not labour this point, but it is in the many billions of pounds. The respected Building Research Establishment estimates that it is £135 billion over 30 years. 

“Of course, there is all the human cost of poor housing and huge cost to other sectors of the economy. In summary, there is a real choice here between carrying on as before and making a determined effort to create good housing for the citizens of this country that is fit for the future.”

The amendment passed – and the Government lost – by nine votes. 

Baroness Owen appears to have staked her claim very early on as a party loyalist in the second chamber. 


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Who is Baroness Owen of Alderley Edge?

Charlotte Owen – Baroness Owen of Alderley Edge – began her career in Brussels, interning for Jacqueline Foster, then deputy leader of the Conservatives in the European Parliament; before moving on to an internship at strategic communications consultancy Portland Communications in London. 

She soon moved back into the Conservative fold, as an assistant to liberal Tory MP William Wragg; before going on to become a special advisor to Boris Johnson – purportedly within the Number 10 Policy Unit.

Baroness Owen kept her SpAd role under Liz Truss’ fleeting premiership in September 2022, splitting her time between chief whip Wendy Morton MP and Truss. (Rishi Sunak did not retain her services when he became the UK’s third Prime Minister of 2022).

Part of the controversy surrounding Baroness Owen’s career history centres on allegations that she exaggerated both her positions and the duration of her time in Downing Street. Critics challenged her claim of working in the Policy Unit, and her LinkedIn profile appears to contradict official reports on how long she served as Johnson’s special advisor. 

Critics argue that her appointment was difficult to justify given her relatively junior standing in the political landscape. Conservative sources told news outlet Tortoise that her appointment as a peer was “completely staggering” and “impossible to defend”. 

Johnson spokesperson and former journalist Ross Kempsell was appointed at the same time and is 31. Unlike Baroness Owen, he has largely avoided the spotlight following the announcement of his peerage. 

Social media has swirled with lurid – and often far-fetched – rumours as to why she they both got their seats. The Sunday Times reported recently that they both played a key role as No 10 staffers during the partygate crisis in running Operation Save Big Dog – giving Johnson a few more months in power while the wolves were circling. 

Baroness Owen is largely unreachable, with no public social media profiles or contact details save for her anonymous-seeming LinkedIn page. Kempsell’s anonymity as a former journalist is also hard to justify. The baroness was contacted for comment. 

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