Voices: Boris’s resignation honours are just a long list of everyone he needs to say sorry to – starting with his own father
The latest rumours on Boris Johnson’s resignation honours list are not clear as to whether he has offered a mere knighthood or a full blown peerage to his own dad, which is bad news for anyone struggling to decide whether to just have a quiet little cry in a corner somewhere or pack up and leave this increasingly ridiculous country altogether.
It’s quite difficult to keep track of the “resignation honours” story, as there are (in theory) two lists doing the rounds, two different sets of people to thank for everything they did for the country in the two months it took the Tory Party to kick two separate prime ministers out of 10 Downing Street.
It’s by no means clear whose is going to be published first – Truss’s or Johnson’s – though you can be certain that Johnson’s will be held up rather longer by whoever it is that has to check them for propriety and ethics... not that they will find any anywhere.
It’s not clear quite how the potential Stanley Johnson appointment will be marked up by the relevant civil servants before being sent back for reconsideration.
Will they just go with: “This man is the former prime minister’s dad. Could look massively corrupt,” and leave it there? Or would it be within their remit to look at the many detailed allegations Stanley Johnson’s late wife Charlotte gave on the subject of her having been the victim of his domestic violence, including a broken nose, a claim which seems to have had precisely zero impact on Johnson Senior’s omnipresence on the D-list celebrity circuit?
(In my short stint as a diary reporter on the London party circuit, I saw more of Stanley Johnson than my own flatmates. It seems highly unlikely to me that any British person in the 21st century has eaten more canapes than Stanley Johnson, with the possible exception of Ben Fogle.)
One wonders if it has occurred to either Johnson or Truss that they could just spare themselves and their friends the humiliation, and the rest of us the blood pressure issues, and not bother knighting or ennobling anyone for what they did during a period of government so mesmerically bad that it will be a while before its scale is fully understood.
Naturally, to do so would be to break with longstanding tradition. Former prime ministers have always handed out honours to their friends at the moment of their resignation. It is a constant of the British constitution, an unbroken run stretching all the way back to David Cameron in 2016. Yes, that’s absolutely right. If you’re trying to find out who was on Gordon Brown’s resignation honours list, or Tony Blair’s, it will take you a while because, knowing it was entirely absurd, they just didn’t bother with it.
And that’s instructive, too. It is best to think of it not as a gesture of thanks – but of apology. And it is only in recent times that it has become common to exit the job of prime minister with an extremely long list of people who you have to say sorry to, ideally with some sort of medal.
David Cameron, objectively Britain’s worst ever prime minister (taking your country out of the EU when you didn’t actually want to remains the high water mark of ineptitude, even after all that’s gone since), felt he was doing the decent thing by giving out knighthoods and peerages to everyone who hadn’t quite worked out he was going to banjax their lives and careers. Though if that is the qualification, it is a shame we weren’t all given one, all 70 million of us, a bit like when Time magazine decided the Person of the Year was in fact “you”.
We know Johnson still intends to ennoble two former staffers aged 28 and 30, one of whom is best known around Westminster for an assignment in his earlier journalistic days of hiding in a tree to spy on Jeremy Corbyn. He has already conferred a peerage on his brother, Jo Johnson, who historians are fairly sure is the only man to resign as a point of principle from his own brother’s government.
There, he sits alongside Zac Goldsmith, whose incredible run of losing elections even when his party was winning them was kindly ended by Johnson with a permanent lifelong seat in the legislature. This happened while he was still prime minister, so if it was to say thank you for anything, it can only have been the occasional loan of the villa in Marbella.
There is a simple solution to all this, of course. Just get rid of the whole thing. The sort of people politicians feel they must thank for their service are precisely the sort of people who didn’t get into public service for the sake of public gratitude.
Mainly, one wonders if Johnson hasn’t realised the extent to which he is doing Keir Starmer’s work for him. It’s clear the Labour leader would gladly get rid of the whole absurd farrago, especially the House of Lords. It’s quite a daunting task, politically, taking a sledgehammer to an institution that is not entirely malignant and does many good things.
But the more preposterous chums of disgraced or merely embarrassed ex-prime ministers are drop-kicked in there for highly dubious reasons, the easier it will be to kick everyone else out with them.
At current trajectory, one suspects it will not take Labour very long at all to finish what it started 25 years ago.