Row grows over Liz Truss ‘lettuce list’ honours for cronies

Former PM’s ‘shameless’ move compared to Harold Wilson’s ‘lavender list’ scandal – as Jacob Rees-Mogg makes desperate defence of ally

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Saturday 30 December 2023 18:10 GMT
Labour MP Jonathan Ashworth hits out as Liz Truss resignation honours list

Liz Truss’s decision to hand out peerages and top gongs to supporters of her short and disastrous premiership has been branded “the lettuce list” by her critics.

They claim the awards for the former PM’s allies and financial backers are the biggest honours scandal since the infamous “lavender list” approved by Labour PM Harold Wilson in 1976.

The controversial resignation honours – allegedly drafted on lavender notepaper by Mr Wilson’s No 10 aide Marcia Falkender – also saw him dole out peerages and gongs to supporters.

A prank suggesting Ms Truss’s brief and chaotic premiership was outlasted by a wilting lettuce went viral last year.

Ms Truss’s critics on social media dubbed her resignation honours the “lettuce list” – with claims the joke lettuce “has more right” to give out awards than the ex-PM.

Like Ms Truss – mocked for staying at No 10 barely longer than the shelf life of a salad vegetable – the recipients of her awards, including lifelong peerages, have been honoured primarily for supporting her in the same 49-day period.

The disgraced former PM – kicked out by her own party after the mini-Budget fiasco – gave peerages to Vote Leave campaign chief Matthew Elliott and pro-Brexit Tory donor Jon Moynihan.

A Labour source told The Independent: “This lettuce list is proof positive of Rishi Sunak’s weakness and is a reward for failure. Honours should be for those committed to public service – not for those who crashed the economy and sent our bills skyrocketing.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg defended the ‘lettuce list’ as political tradition (PA Wire)

The Lib Dems’ deputy leader Daisy Cooper said: “Liz Truss’s lettuce list is an embarrassment and symbolises everything that is wrong with the Conservative party.” She said the ex-PM’s backers were “responsible for flatlining the economy”.

Amid the backlash, the former PM’s ally Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg offered a desperate justification for her decision to hand honours to top Tory backers, and attacked her “po-faced puritan” critics.

Struggling to defend her legacy on BBC Radio 4’s Today, the ex-cabinet minister claimed it was political tradition to shower those “close to the government” with awards.

Sir Jacob – knighted as part of Boris Johnson’s resignation honours – argued that they helped “oil” the political system and were a tradition “fundamentally based on a people who were close to the government and close to the crown”.

Mr Rees-Mogg said Mr Moynihan – the ex-Vote Leave board member who donated £20,000 to Ms Truss’s leadership campaign in 2022 – had “strongly deserved” his peerage.

The ex-business secretary added: “Jon Moynihan has been a very significant supporter of the Conservative party, a successful businessman, somebody who has contributed a great deal to the political life of the nation.”

Challenged by Radio 4 host Nick Robinson if he could name the achievements of the Truss administration, Sir Jacob struggled to name any. “Liz Truss took on the most senior political job in the country, of being the prime minister, which is a role that comes with enormous responsibilities,” he said without much enthusiasm.

Former PM Liz Truss was accused of ‘shameless’ cronyism (PA Wire)

Mr Rees-Mogg also told Sky News: “Honours have long oiled our political system and cost nothing, so it is hard to see what the harm is except it upsets the po-faced puritans.”

Her resignation honours list was branded a “slap in the face” by Labour, while the Libs Dems described it “shameless” and campaigners called for reform of the “rotten” peerage system.

The Electoral Reform Society said it was an “insult” to see Ms Truss putting friends and backers in the Lords – arguing that it showed exactly why the “rotten and out of control the current peerages system” must be reformed.

Dr Jess Garland, the society’s director of research and policy, told Sky News the resignation honours were a “convention that has really got out of control”.

The Institute for Government’s director Hannah White told the BBC that resignation honours had brought the whole system into disrepute and should be ditched.

Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth told BBC Breakfast: “Liz Truss was prime minister for 40 odd days. She and her colleagues pushed the economy off a cliff ... so these are rewards for failure.”

But Mr Rees-Mogg insisted that the system was fair – and warned that stopping political parties’ backers from entering the Lords would see donations dry up.

“You don’t want to discourage people from donating to political parties,” he said. “Trade union leaders get honoured, and they go to the House of Lords, and this too is perfectly reasonable.”

Ms Truss’ close aide Ruth Porter was also given a peerage. A number of allies in parliament were on the list, with Jackie Doyle-Price given a damehood and Alec Shelbrooke put forward for a knighthood.

Meanwhile, the Conservative Party is facing claims of cronyism after at least seven of its political donors were handed gongs in the separate New Year’s Honours list.

Wetherspoon founder Tim Martin was knighted (PA Archive)

There were knighthoods for Wetherspoon’s boss Tim Martin, taxi firm supremo John Griffin, financier William Salomon and racing mogul Ron Dennis – who gave a combined total of more than £5m to the party.

The Liberal Democrats said it was “shocking” how many Tory backers were being rewarded – arguing that it made a “mockery” of the honours system.

Mr Martin’s spokesperson said claims of cronyism were “at odds with reality” – pointing out that he had donated to Labour Leave, a pro-Brexit organisation, during the referendum campaign.

Mr Griffin, the founder of Addison Lee taxi company, who has given around £4m to the Tories, told The Guardian that politics was “not really my bag” and he had not looked for an honour through financial support for the party.

Cabinet minister Esther McVey argued that honours lists can be made “even more representative”. Mr Sunak’s minister for common sense told the Express she wanted to see people “from more walks of life” recognised in future.

A Conservative spokesperson said supporting a political party was “part of our civic democracy” and insisted that it was “wrong to criticise individuals being honoured just because they have also chosen to support or donate to a political party”.

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