Since 1895, almost every Prime Minister has, upon their resignation, offered a list of people whom they wish to grant peerages, knighthoods, and damehoods to the monarch. Whilst the monarch is the person to formally approve this, the list is first reviewed and forwarded to the monarch by the current Prime Minister – in Johnson’s case, Rishi Sunak.
Johnson’s list, submitted last month, came under fire from various outlets and political figures. The Guardian summarises the general consensus on the list succinctly, stating that “other outgoing prime ministers have previously used [resignation honours] to decorate those who remained with them until the bitter end”. Indeed, members of the House of Lords are there for a reason: to scrutinise the government using their specific expertise, providing a key check and balance on the government in order to ensure that we remain a fair and democratic country. Arguably, the fast pass that the Prime Minister’s allies are given into the Lords challenges this; instead of being there for their expertise, they’re there due to their consistent loyalty to the Prime Minister. Not only does this create a House which may struggle to fulfil its function, but it also creates allies to the Prime Minister who may only be allied to him due to the possibility that they may be given a peerage.
Whilst one should recognise that this process is tradition and that Johnson is not an exception, one should consider the usefulness of resignation honours. Why was Chris Whitty not given an honour or a peerage? He provided key information and explanations on COVID to the government, Johnson himself, and to the British public during the pandemic. However, his contributions haven’t been recognised or celebrated, and his key expertise which could’ve been crucial to the House of Lords isn’t being used to its full potential. This demonstrates the potential problems that resignation honours pose.
This isn’t the first time that resignation honours have been met by controversy. Harold Wilson’s 1976 ‘Lavender List’ drew much attention after he nominated various wealthy businessmen for honours and peerages in spite of them sharing contrary political principles to Wilson and his Labour Party. Additionally, the more recent ‘Cash for Honours’ scandal – which came to light following the rejection of several life peerages nominated by Tony Blair in 2006 by the House of Lords Appointment Commission – meant that Tony Blair did not submit a Resignation Honours list in 2007.
However, we must accept tradition, something which Britain has become rather good at doing.