Peerages for cronies are a constitutional novelty
Predictably, Boris Johnson’s reported resignation honours list is a defiant compilation of cronies, donors and private jokes. In the candid words of one anonymous Conservative MP to Sky News: “What a shameful list of bootlickers, bimbos and tropical island holiday facilitators who between them can be proud to have
pushed trust in politics to an extreme low during their tenures and offered very little in return to the British people.”
Then again, Johnson was never much bothered about any of that. An immediate problem is the unsuitability of some of the names being proposed by the new prime minister on behalf of his predecessor to the King, by convention. They’re very much Johnson’s responsibility, his personal gifts of recognition on the occasion of his departure, as opposed to the usual run of honours in the New Year and on the sovereign’s birthday. But No 10 will always be wary of recommending questionable characters for vetting by the House of Lords appointments committee and, more informally, Buckingham Palace. So the twenty or so originals have been whittled down.
One apparent omission is the long-rumoured elevation of the editor-in-chief of the Daily Mail titles, Paul Dacre, to a peerage. No doubt his day will come. More certain seem to be the four Conservative MPs nominated for their lordships’ house: Nadine Dorries, former culture secretary and fanatical Johnson loyalist; Alister Jack, current secretary of state for Scotland, Alok Sharma, ex-cabinet minister and retiring Cop26 president, and Nigel Adams, long-time Johnson confidant, junior minister and close ally.
Apart from anything else, the problem with nominating sitting MPs for the Lords is that they have to quit their Commons seats, prompting a by-election. Two of the four seats would almost certainly fall to opposition parties (one each to Labour and the SNP), while the other two (including Selby) would probably be touch-and-go between Labour and the Tories. In order to avoid further erosion of their parliamentary majority, the Conservatives are trying to engineer “post-dated” peerages, to take effect only after the next general election is called. It is a constitutional novelty rather than an outrage, but there is no law against it, and it will really be up to Sunak.
As if to signal his contempt for the dignity of the upper chamber, Johnson wishes to ennoble two of his most loyal advisers
Many of the other figures in line for peerage seem to represent Johnson putting two fingers up to his critics. As if to signal his contempt for the dignity of the upper chamber, Johnson wishes to ennoble two of his most loyal advisers: Ross Kempsell and Charlotte Owen, Johnson’s former assistant, who would become the youngest ever life peers. Besides their relatively short party political service to Johnson, they have relatively little expertise to bring to the Lords.
Similarly cheeky is the nomination of Shaun Bailey, failed Tory candidate for mayor of London. It was Bailey who faced the shame of attending a lockdown rules-busting Christmas party. Perhaps Johnson is signalling what he really thinks about the Partygate saga. Also controversial is Tory mayor for Tees Valley, Ben Houchen, and the donor who arranged for the Johnsons’ winter holiday in Mustique, Carphone Warehouse founder David Ross.
Johnson isn’t the first prime minister to have attracted criticism for his selections for ennoblement and knighthoods. The most famously eccentric resignations list was the one Harold Wilson presented on his retirement in 1976, which contained a number of figures with little or no connection, let alone sympathy, for the Labour; and one, the businessman Joseph Kagan, later convicted of fraud. It was called the “lavender list” because it
was drafted on coloured notepaper by Wilson’s political secretary Marcia Williams (who had been herself ennobled in 1974, Johnson-style). It became notorious.
David Lloyd George, who allegedly sold honours during and after the First World War, as well as Tony Blair, who became embroiled in the cash-for-honours scandal in 2005-06, and the King, as Prince of Wales, have all also found themselves the subject of unfavourable comment about their nominations for preferment. The difference with Johnson is that his reputation doesn’t have far to fall.
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