When Napoleon Bonaparte achieved what no self-made man in history had previously managed by usurping the old order and crowning himself Emperor of the French in 1804, he didn’t forget his family and friends now that he had ascended an unprecedented pinnacle. It had been common practice for centuries for Kings to reward their favourites with titles, but Bonaparte took this onto a new level. The numerous territories he had already conquered across Europe had all been monarchies and he therefore required them to be ruled in his name by puppet sovereigns of his own choosing; with this in mind, he solved the problem by dishing out the vacant crowns to his siblings and most trusted marshals, creating a concept of cronyism that has subsequently become more closely associated with political rather than imperial demagogues.
Harold Wilson’s so-called ‘Lavender List’, which appeared following his 1976 resignation as Prime Minister, caused controversy at the time due to the fact that many prominent businessmen who had little or no connection with either the Labour Party or traditional Labour values were handsomely rewarded – including the hardly universally-beloved James Goldsmith; and now fresh controversy has broken out with the news that David Cameron’s Resignation Honours List appears to consist of a series of gold stars for his chums and colleagues. Notable absentees from the roll-call of recipients include Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks, though even Dodgy Dave probably figured he’d never get away with that one. That the Tories desperately need an injection of peerages to prop up their dwindling numbers in the Lords also adds to the general air of dubiousness surrounding the necessity of such a questionable system.
In an age when even Her Majesty’s Birthday and New Year’s Honours respectively can rarely expect to be published without considerable criticism, it does seem something of an anachronism that the retiring Prime Minister also has the opportunity to dish out gongs and awards to people whose service to the nation was secondary to their service to the PM in question. Whereas the monarch’s Birthday Honours were only officially introduced in 1885 to mark the birthday of Queen Victoria, the Downing Street equivalent doesn’t even stretch back that far in historical terms, the practice being inaugurated upon Churchill’s eviction from No.10 in 1945, presumably as a means of marking his contribution to the War effort following his unceremonious dumping by the electorate.
Clement Attlee, a man whose great achievements in post-war office had been preceded by sterling service in the Coalition Government during the Second World War, was granted the same privilege as his predecessor (and consequent successor) in 1951, and thereafter the pattern has only been broken on five occasions. Churchill opted out of a second list upon his final retirement as PM in 1955, whereas the nature of Eden’s 1957 exit negated it; perhaps mindful of the controversy surrounding Wilson’s list, Jim Callaghan decided not to uphold the tradition in 1979, and both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown declined as well – although Blair’s decision came in the wake of the Cash for Honours scandal, so it was perhaps understandable.
The House of Lords Appointments Commission (as well as the Cabinet Office) has apparently raised ‘ethical concerns’ over Cameron’s proposed list of recipients, and though the list won’t be officially published for another few weeks, the leaks that have reached the media suggest Dave’s prime motivation was to thank those on the private payroll by placing them on the public one. Former Chief of Staff Ed Llewellyn was one of Cameron’s closest advisers from his election as PM in 2010 and is rumoured to be ordering his ermine in readiness; other insiders alleged to be up for a peerage include such household names as Chris Lockwood, Camilla Cavendish, Laura Trott and Gabby Bertin.
Knighthoods are also in the offing for some of Dave’s MP mates, as well as gongs for those who publicly supported the disastrous Remain campaign, including – inexplicably – Will Straw, son of ex-Labour Home and Foreign Secretary Jack; in case you didn’t know, Straw Junior was the man responsible for the appalling and toe-curling ‘Votin’ ad intended to persuade hedonistic youngsters to head for the polling booths, something they evidently struggled to sandwich between ‘ravin’, ‘surfin’ and ‘parachutin’ if the result of the Referendum was anything to go by.
All-in-all, the names on Cameron’s provisional list that have seeped out to the press suggest a lack of awards for people whose work has benefitted anyone other than Dave. Whilst hardly a shocking revelation, these leaks imply the moment has come to call time on an archaic and unnecessary tradition that has no place in a political world that already has its fair share of questionable honours systems. That said, Dave – if you’re reading – I wouldn’t mind an OBE if there’s any spare ones knocking about. Sorry I called you a posh twat, me old mucker.
© The Editor