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Cameron in cronyism storm over resignation honours

Monday, August 1, 2016 - 21:12
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David Cameron faced accusations of cronyism and rewarding failure on Monday over a leaked list of names put forward to receive some of Britain's highest honours following his resignation as prime minister.

[LONDON] David Cameron faced accusations of cronyism and rewarding failure on Monday over a leaked list of names put forward to receive some of Britain's highest honours following his resignation as prime minister.

Mr Cameron stood down last month after he lost the referendum in which Britons voted to leave the European Union. Now he has drawn up the prime minister's traditional "resignation honours list", showering politicians, donors, co-workers and others with knighthoods and other titles.

Some of the most prominent names are leading figures from the government's unsuccessful referendum campaign, according to the list leaked to the Sunday Times.

They include cabinet ministers Michael Fallon, Philip Hammond, Patrick McLoughlin and David Lidington, all of whom favoured remaining in the EU.

Also listed are Isabel Spearman, a former public relations executive for a handbag designer who worked for Mr Cameron's wife Samantha as a stylist and assistant, and Thea Rogers, an aide credited with smartening up finance minister George Osborne.

The list has angered many on the Eurosceptic wing of Cameron's Conservative Party, who emerged as winners from the referendum, while the opposition Labour Party said prime minister Theresa May should end a discredited system of awarding honours.

"David Cameron has decided to reward his political allies with honours as if they are confetti and I think he discredits the system," Labour's deputy leader, Tom Watson, told Sky News.

Nigel Farage, the outgoing leader of the anti-EU UK Independence Party, said on Twitter that the list contained "too many rewards for failure".

Tommy Sheppard, a member of parliament for the Scottish National Party, which backs independence for Scotland, said the honours system was ridiculous: "We are seeing Tory (Conservative) privilege over reward for public service".

A spokeswoman for Ms May, who succeeded Mr Cameron as prime minister, said nominations for honours were at his discretion.

She added: "There is now a process to be followed, the prime minister's view is that it would set a bad precedent for the prime minister to interfere in that process."

Mr Cameron has not commented on the accusations but Conservative lawmaker Desmond Swayne, who was knighted for political service this year, said it was representative of Cameron's six years as prime minister.

He told the BBC: "The reason we have a resignation honours list is because over a period of government ... a prime minister has to cajole and get the support of a number people and he builds up a debt of honour. "I think that frankly an honours list is a relatively light way of paying it off."

Honours in Britain have in the past sometimes proved problematic.

"Resignation honours lists are always risky," said Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary, University of London. "The purpose of them is very personal. There's the extent to which the ex-prime minister's friends are going to be at a huge advantage over those who were of less importance and less value," he told Reuters.

He cited the example of Harold Wilson, whose 1976 list contained one businessman later convicted of fraud and another who subsequently died while being investigated for the same offence. Mr Wilson had gone beyond friendship, Mr Bale said, and stepped over the line towards cronyism.

There are also examples of when recipients have been stripped of their honours.

Over the years, knighthoods have been removed from Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe, Romania's late communist chief Nicolae Ceaucescu and, for declaring war on Britain, Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini.

REUTERS