Since his ‘slow motion’ resignation announcement, there has been much press speculation about just who would be in Boris Johnson’s resignation honours list. It is now clear that we are facing the ultimate example of Johnson’s cronyism; more in the long-playing record of corruption that has been one of the hallmarks of his outgoing government.
Writing for the Institute for Government (a charity which describes itself as “the leading think tank working to make government more effective”) on 26 July, Hanna White points out that:
“In just three years, Boris Johnson has already made appointments to the House of Lords equivalent to 10% of its current size – appointing 86 new peers to a house which now totals more than 800. His reported plans to add an unusually large number of peers in his resignation honours list would further swell a chamber that is already, infamously, second only in size to the Chinese National People’s Congress.”
Systematically undermining our constitution
There is little doubt that Johnson’s action will be yet another example of his efforts to undermine the constitution. Yet there is supposed to be a check on appointments to the Lords, in the form of the House of Lords Appointments Commission (HOLAC) which by convention is responsible for vetting the suitability of candidates for the house of peers. In Hanna White’s view the HOLAC:
“May be exercising its sole, weak form of check by taking its time over clearing the latest set of proposed new peers. But this is unlikely to prevent Johnson getting his way. HOLAC can advise against certain candidates being given peerages – as it did in 2020 when he put forward former Conservative Party treasurer Peter Cruddas – but there is little to stop a prime minister ignoring this advice, as he did in the case of Cruddas. On his way out of Downing Street there will be even less incentive on Johnson to exercise restraint.”
Packing the Lords in his resignation honours list
Many national newspapers have speculated on just who will star in Johnson’s honours list, including the Mirror, The National, the Times, the Guardian, and the Telegraph. Writing in the Guardian on 30 July 2022 former prime minister Gordon Brown (who declined to submit the traditional resignation honours list when he left office in 2010) reveals:
“A confidential document prepared by CT Group, the influential lobbying firm run by Lynton Crosby which advises Boris Johnson, and which I have seen, makes no bones about the defenestrated prime minister’s aim to pack the House of Lords. The document proposes that Johnson ride roughshod over every convention and standard of propriety in an effort to secure political nominees who will vote for the Tory government, especially its bill to disown the international treaty it has itself signed over Northern Ireland.
“This draft plan to add 39 to 50 new Tory peers includes an extraordinary requirement that each new peer sign away their right to make their own judgment on legislation that comes before them. They have to give, the paper says, a written undertaking to attend and vote with the government.
“The plan also legitimises straightforward bribery. In a throwback to the Old Corruption that was a feature of 19th-century Tory Britain, compliant lords will be “rewarded” with lucrative special envoy positions, and, while those who fail to attend votes will be placed on a “name and shame” list, CBEs and additional titles will be handed out, responding to what is an apparently insatiable demand for the already ennobled to be showered with additional honours on top of their peerages…”
Time to abolish the House of Lords?
Brown’s revelations give further ammunition to those seeking to reform the House of Lords and he goes on to remind readers that the abolition of the current House of Lords was one of the ten commitments Sir Keir Starmer made when campaigning for the Labour Party leadership in 2020. Since then, a number of these commitments have been ditched. Given these revelations and doubtless more to come, maybe this one will survive?
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