George Osborne and Tory donors on Cameron's honours list

Former PM accused of reinforcing medieval-style system of patronage for friends and allies with controversial list

David Cameron has been accused of exercising patronage like a medieval monarch, after his controversial list of honours for Downing Street aides, pro-EU campaigners and at least three party donors was approved.

The former prime minister was successful in nominating 13 people for new peerages, including the Tory donors Jitesh Gadhia and Andrew Fraser, a party treasurer.

Some of Cameron’s closest political advisers – Gabby Bertin, his former director of external relations; Ed Llewellyn, his former chief of staff; former policy unit chief Camilla Cavendish; and Liz Sugg, former head of operations at No 10 – will also enter the House of Lords.

Among the 46 people to get honours are his former director of communications, Craig Oliver, who will get a knighthood, and George Osborne, the former chancellor, who becomes a companion of honour.

Michael Fallon, the defence secretary who became Cameron’s attack dog in the EU referendum and general election, will be a knight commander (KCB) and Patrick McLoughlin, the new Tory chairman, is to get a knighthood.

Andrew Cook, who donated money to the Conservative party and the remain campaign, will also receive a knighthood. Will Straw, the Labour activist who led the failed campaign to stay in the EU, will get a CBE.

The publication of the list created an immediate backlash against Cameron and his successor in Downing Street, Theresa May, who has refused to block the list because it would “set a bad precedent”.

She had come under pressure to overturn his decisions after 48 names were leaked to the Sunday Times last week.

There were also questions about why Laura Wyld, the former head of Cameron’s appointment unit and whose job included recommending people for honours, has had to delay her entry to the Lords for a year.

The list will increase membership of the House of Lords to more than 800 for the first time and mean the number of appointed Conservative peers rises above that of Labour, making it easier for the government to pass legislation in the upper chamber.

Gabby Bertin
Gabby Bertin. Photograph: Steve Back/Rex Features

Just hours before the list was unexpectedly published on Thursday, it emerged that May’s leadership campaign received £35,000 from two Tory donors put forward by Cameron. Her campaign took £15,000 from Ian Taylor, an oil executive at Vitol, who was put forward for a knighthood by Cameron but asked to have his name withdrawn after the outcry about the list.

May was also given £20,000 by IPGL, the company linked to businessman Michael Spencer, whom Cameron recommended for a peerage before it was blocked by the House of Lords appointment commission.

Neither appeared on the list but two other donors were approved for peerages. Gadhia, formerly a senior managing director of Blackstone and board member of UK Financial Investments, has given around £200,000 to the party. Fraser is treasurer of the Conservative party and also a major donor.

Other peers include Olivia Bloomfield, who worked in fundraising at Conservative party headquarters, Jonathan Caine, a former special adviser in the Northern Ireland Office, Timothy Kirkhope, an MEP, Mark McInnes, a Conservative councillor in Edinburgh, Philippa Roe, leader of Westminster city council; Charlotte Vere, a former executive director at Conservatives In.

More politicians to get honours include Hugo Swire, a former Foreign Office minister, who has been offered the KCMG, or knight commander in the order of Saint Michael and Saint George; Oliver Letwin, the former Cabinet Office minister regarded as Cameron’s fixer, who gets a knighthood; and Patrick McLoughlin, the new chairman of the Conservative party, who also gets a knighthood. Caroline Spelman, a former environment secretary, will become a dame.

Samantha Cameron’s assistant and special adviser Isabel Spearman will be awarded an OBE.

The list immediately came under attack from Labour, Lib Dem and SNP politicians who accused Cameron and the prime minister of bringing the honours system into disrepute.

Tom Watson, the deputy Labour leader, said: “Now that Theresa May has signed off on Cameron’s crony list she is completely responsible for undermining the credibility of the honours system and putting crony lawmakers into the House of Lords.”

Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats, accused Cameron of making a list “so full of cronies it would embarrass a medieval court …

“He is not the first prime minister to leave office having rewarded quite so many friends, but he should be the last. For the reputation of future leaders, such appointments should be handed over to an independent panel,” he said.

Tommy Sheppard, SNP spokesman for the Cabinet Office, said it showed the Westminster honours system is “rotten to the core … The former prime minister has well and truly overstepped the mark of acceptability with these awards by choosing to use his resignation to hand out knighthoods and honours as a form of personal patronage,” he said.

“This list brings disrepute both on David Cameron and on the honours system. It is now time to take a fundamental look at the system so that we can have a civil honours procedure that recognises service to the community and outstanding performance in a particular field – neither of which applies to this list.

“We have also seen Theresa May fail in an early test of her leadership by being caught out – she said it wouldn’t be appropriate to intervene in the matter, only for it to be revealed she accepted a donation from Ian Taylor who was, until recently, also on the list.”

Criticism of the list was not limited to the Conservatives. A number of Labour MPs criticised their leader, Jeremy Corbyn, for nominating the civil liberties campaigner Shami Chakrabarti for a peerage, despite having indicated he would not nominate any peerages without Lords reform. She recently wrote a report on allegations of antisemitism within the party.

Shami Chakrabarti
Shami Chakrabarti. Photograph: Graeme Robertson/the Guardian

There are tensions at the top of the party about Chakrabarti’s nomination. It is understood that Tom Watson, the deputy leader, was not consulted and is uneasy with it. He has called for a boycott of the honours system until it is cleaned up.

The lists were published as a new report into Whitehall’s ethics watchdog warned party leaders have become “dangerously reliant on mega-donors”.

The report on party funding, commissioned by Paul Bew’s committee for standards in public life, raised serious concerns about over-reliance by parties on big donors.

“This, in turn, raises questions of alleged rewards for these donors in the form of peerages and other public honours, privileged access and of influence on policy. These are areas of frequent speculation but inadequate solid research,” wrote the report’s author, Dr Michael Pinto-Duschinsky.

The paper highlighted a public “fear that major donors expect and are led to expect privileged access to the government in order to promote their business interest”.

It also expressed concern that soliciting huge sums is a “lazy shortcut for party leaders who are thereby able to devote less time and attention to the essential democratic function of generating support from party members”.

The privileged access perceived to be granted to big donors and the gilded social functions they are invited to by parties also came in for criticism. “Social events which party leaders feel the need to hold with potential mega-donors gives an image of undesirable entitlement and extravagant lifestyle by the successful few,” it said.

However, it cautioned against making an easy link between donors who received honours and political influence, noting that many are deserved for unrelated reasons.


Rowena Mason Deputy political editor

The GuardianTramp

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