Will David Cameron's 'debt of honour' ever be paid?

Written by Tom Smithard on 1 August 2016 in Diary

Gongs for stylists and chauffeurs? Honours for donors and aides? David Cameron's 'lavender list' is raising eyebrows among the opposition - but also among his successors in Downing Street.

It is his ‘debt of honour’ – the final favours of a man who has exhausted his political capital. But will David Cameron be able to get his gongs list through his successor?

Yesterday the list of aides and supporters David Cameron wants to reward in his final honours list was leaked to the Sunday Times and includes some eyebrow-raising names, including two of his official drivers and his wife’s stylist.

Twenty of the 48 names said to be on the list are serving or former special advisers, including an OBE for Thea Rogers, the former BBC producer turned chief of staff for George Osborne.

And there are also rewards for those who campaigned to remain in Europe, including a CBE for Will Straw, the Labour-supporting former chief of Britain Stronger In, and Ian Taylor and Andrew Cook, who both donated six-figure sums to the referendum campaign group.

The proposals have drawn scorn from across the political divide. Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen said it “smacks of cronyism” while Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson described it as an “example of the old boys’ network”.

Nigel Farage branded it a “reward for failure” while the Daily Mail splash headline reads ‘Fury at Dave’s Gongs for his Cronies’.

This morning David Cameron’s successors in No 10 have let it be known that they are “uncomfortable with the extent” of the list. There has been speculation that Theresa May’s team may not be too concerned that the list has somehow made its way into the public domain.

But David Cameron, who always valued loyalty among his team, will not give up his list without a fight – and last night his former aide Sir Desmond Swayne was out batting on his behalf.

Sir Desmond – who was awarded his knighthood in June – told Radio 4’s Westminster Hour that the honours list was a “relatively light” way of rewarding service. He said:

“I think the reason we have an honours list is because over a period of government, particularly a difficult government in a coalition, a prime minister has to cajole and get the support of a number of people and he builds up a debt of honour and I think that frankly, an honours list is a relatively light way of paying it off. I think we get far too excited about these things. The reality is, with any honours list, there are names that will warm our hearts and names that will send us into an apoplectic rage.”

Asked whether rewarding all his press aides was legitimate or not, Sir Desmond said that they were “essential and do a great job”.

With no date set for when these honours will be awarded though David Cameron may have to rely on his former aides’ combined political acumen to win this battle – or a favour from a former home secretary keen to stamp a different mark in Downing Street. 

Picture by: Peter Byrne/PA Archive/Press Association Images

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