Current and former members of the government’s honours committees have said they faced pressure from Downing Street to reward Tory donors, and that if they failed to comply with requests they were informed their services were no longer required, an investigation by Channel 4 News has revealed.
Talking of one candidate, Sir Vernon Ellis, chair of the arts and media honours committee between 2012 and 2015, told the programme: “I felt that if he was given the honour, it would bring the honours into a bit of disrepute because people would say how can he possibly deserve this honour when in this other field there was so much kind of going on and noise and some of that was at his door, right or wrong.”
He added the person “was also a Tory donor.”
Ellis also described an exchange with the then cabinet secretary, the late Jeremy Heywood, after he reportedly resisted pressure to honour a No 10-backed candidate.
“He said: ‘You know, if you continue your position some things might happen that you don’t like, there might be some consequences.’
“And I said: ‘Really, what sort of consequences?’ He didn’t say, except said: ‘Sometimes, you’ve just got to be pragmatic.’”
When Ellis’s three-year term as chair ended, he was told he would not be offered a second term.
The new year honours list is to be announced next week. Earlier this month Dame Louise Casey, chair of the community and voluntary service committee which awards the majority of honours, told the Cabinet Office, in an email seen by Channel 4 News, that she had concerns about “politicalisation” of the system.
“It’s no secret I’ve struggled with the politicalisation of the honours and especially with the last incumbents of No 10,” she wrote.
“I know balancing a demanding No 10 with many other pressures is hard, but I also owe it to myself to say when I think something is not right.”
Waheed Saleem, who was appointed to the community and voluntary services honours committee in 2019, told the programme he was subjected to “subtle pressure” to approve nominations being put forward by Downing Street, who he felt as an independent member were not deserving.
Saleem, a former police and crime commissioner, said: “So there’s somebody from No 10, who sits on the committee, who obviously reports back to No 10.
“And these nominations, when they were rejected [by] the committee, were continuously put back to the committee until the right answer came along.
“And so there were these subtle hints about these nominations, [that] because of their links to No 10, [they] should be put through for the high honours.
“We actually did a pushback. But it was very interesting how those names were continuously being put forward, until the right answer was given.
“And that’s the politicisation and the political influence that had occurred in the committee. And that’s wrong.”
Saleem said a few months later he was told his term of office on the committee was not being renewed.
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “The process for selecting honours is based on merit and approved by committees which are made up of independent members.
“Political awards are a tiny number compared to the overall amount of honours granted.
“Members are appointed for three-year terms and terms can be extended by mutual consent.”
Heywood’s widow, Lady Suzanne Heywood, told the programme the allegations against her husband were “baseless”.
She said: “My late husband dedicated his life to public service, working with governments of all political colours.”