After a week of speculation about the likelihood of a list packed with mates, advisors and donors, David Cameron’s resignation honours list was published last night (just late enough to make life difficult for newspaper editors) and… it’s not just packed with mates, advisors and donors, it’s almost exclusively made up of them.
The practice of gongs for SPADs was almost invented by David Cameron. Before 2010, very few were awarded them – even the biggest beasts of the Labour jungle like Alastair Campbell, Jonathan Powell and Anji Hunter left a decade of Blair Government gong-less, and yet now the House of Lords will gain yet more of Cameron’s former team. Some, to be fair, are entirely merited. But the whiff of cronyism, and the way it plays into a wider sense of the ‘chumocracy’ around his Premiership, hangs around people’s views on a PM who was actually reasonably popular amongst the public until the end.
The former PM has clearly taken the view that he need not worry about public opinion too much anymore, and his legacy will be defined by rather bigger issues than this. And to that extent, he’s probably right. The allegation of cronyism gets thrown at almost every PM at some point, and whilst some might argue it carries rather more weight with DC, the reality is that history will judge David Cameron on two things. On the plus side, he had the political courage to lead Britain into a historic coalition, and he made it work. On the other hand, he led Britain into a Brexit he did not himself believe in. In fact, the first drafts of history will probably conclude he was a better and more comfortable Coalition PM than he was a Conservative one.
The honours system has been coming under increasing scrutiny in recent years. Its critics say there are too many awards to too dubious characters, reinforcing hierarchy and patronage in society. Given all Theresa May’s talk of social mobility and meritocracy, don’t be at all surprised if we see big reform in the coming years.