HAVING annexed the keys to Downing Street on a meritocratic platform reining in politics from the cronyism and nepotism of the Cameron years, Theresa May is under pressure to block certain individuals from her predecessor’s heavily criticised honours list.
An unprecedented leak of Cameron’s proposals for peerages has revealed that one of his last acts in power was attempting to reward friends and allies with knighthoods and other honours, in an audacious two-fingered salute to the system that spat him out after the Brexit referendum.
Among the controversial proposals are Ian Taylor, an oil industry executive who funded the Tories to the tune of £1 million and financially backed both the Remain and Better Together campaigns, and Andrew Cook, a fellow traveller who donated heavily to Cameron’s political ascent. Both have been nominated for knighthoods.
Dozens of cabinet ministers, staffers and advisers loyal to Cameron have also won the shady sweepstakes, with those who supported his pro-EU stance comprising the vast majority of political nominees. Philip Hammond, Michael Fallon, Patrick McLoughlin, David Lidington, and naturally George Osborne are the key heavyweights up for honours.
That a prime minister should award his principal allies for their service is incontrovertible, and indeed traditional, but it is the lightweight nominees who have transformed a typical Westminster practice into a media circus, and led to calls from Labour and Liberal backbenchers to revamp the honours system in its entirety.
Isabel Spearman is a 37-year-old PR professional whose sole contribution to the United Kingdom has been doing Samantha Cameron’s hair, planning her diary and suggesting outfits for various parties and PR stunts.
Thea Rodgers was George Osborne’s chief of staff, a role which saw her put the soft-bellied Chancellor of the Exchequer on a fad diet, plan his engagements and keep his Caesar hairstyle in check.
Both have been nominated for OBEs and both received extremely generous salaries completely at odds with the transparency and accountability demanded of a democratic state.
Even Will Straw, son of former foreign secretary Jack Straw, head of a floundering and unremarkable cross-party attempt to issue pro-EU propaganda, and one-time Labour parliamentary candidate, managed to creep onto the list.
Throughout his tenure leading an embattled nation through economic strife, terrorist threats, the possible dissolution of the state, various military entanglements abroad, and stinging austerity measures, Cameron has found time to lavish peerages on at least 13 donors to the Conservative party, and even a strategist who helped him win the 2015 election.
Though abused every which way by almost every prime minister in the modern age, with the honours system typically being used as a means of symbolically (and ultimately financially) paying back political and personal debts, the awards were originally reserved for chivalry, courage and the defence of the empire.
Now Theresa May is facing intensified calls to retain at least some vestige of this embryonic ideal by blocking particularly outrageous members of the list, a move which has little modern precedent but also faces no constitutional obstacle.
With opposition parties smelling blood, May would do well to stamp her authority on both her party and the executive while securing enhanced public support by distancing herself from the awards which will ultimately be attributed to her premiership.
“I hope Theresa May is not going to stake her reputation on David Cameron’s old boys’ network,” said deputy Labour leader Tom Watson.
“That Mr Cameron proposes to reward his friends network on such a huge scale will not only bring the honours system into disrepute, it will undermine the reputation of Theresa May. It’s cronyism, pure and simple and proof the Tories will always put their own interests before those of the country.”