Cronyism, donors, wily MPs: Johnson’s honours glorify all that is wrong with his

Many of the people who have been prime minister in the past six years seem to have internalised the idea that we’re sleepwalking towards an apologetically British form of tinpot dictatorship. After all, each of them has spent a remarkable amount of their time in office saying out loud: “I really don’t think the public wants an election.”

Perhaps the arc of history is bending towards them being right. As discussed here previously, a recent poll found that 61% of 18- to 34-year-olds supported running the UK with “a strong leader who doesn’t have to bother with parliament/elections”. Which doesn’t feel like the most ringing endorsement of whichever form of democracy we currently practise (constitutional experts/dadaists are invited to get in touch to clarify). We have an unelected second chamber and the second mandate-free prime minister in just over two months. Meanwhile, the former health secretary who spent most of the pandemic telling everyone how to behave has absconded from his post as a member of parliament, and is currently poised to pocket a rumoured £400,000 fee to enter the I’m A Celebrity jungle, where he claims to want to talk to the public about dyslexia. That’s going to be difficult with his mouth full of kangaroo cock. But we are where we are.

Against this increasingly necrotic political backdrop, many will feel too far gone to react angrily to a Boris Johnson resignation honours list that includes peerages for young No 10 aides (one of whom, Charlotte Owen, is said to be in her late 20s); for Nadine Dorries; for the former Tory mayoral candidate who threw a lockdown party; for MPs who are “deferring” taking their ermine till after the next election so as not to risk unfortunate byelection results for the governing party; and for the guy who paid for Johnson’s wildly expensive holiday to Mustique that the then prime minister repeatedly lied about.

Indeed, all of this ennoblement is being pushed while Johnson is himself being investigated by the privileges committee on a charge of misleading the house, for which the penalty could be his removal from it. Like I say, many will simply decline to lose their rag about him stuffing the Lords. At some point, the smart move becomes saving your energy for the militias.

As for the specific defects of this honours list, in many ways they aren’t exactly new. We have long seen politicians and political aides given peerages simply for doing their jobs – the equivalent of a participation medal. Albeit in this case for people who participated in one of the most shambolic periods of government in living memory. And arguably there’s nothing wrong with becoming a peer in your late 20s – people have been doing it for centuries, typically after their father succumbed to consumption or suffered a hunting mishap following rumours of an affair with a senior Whig.

Indeed, Johnson’s allies stress that the former PM has in fact proffered a “slimmed-down” list, compared with what he had originally planned. Yet that is solely because – as we now know only too well – the recently ousted Johnson actively seeks a swift return to Downing Street. Trust me, had he decided…

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