Tories accused of cronyism as seven donors handed New Year Honours

Knighthoods for financial backers who gave party more than £5m

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Saturday 30 December 2023 12:59 GMT
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The Conservative Party is facing claims of cronyism after at least seven of its political donors were handed top gongs in the New Years Honours list.

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.

It comes as Liz Truss was accused of a “shameless” attempt to reward cronies after she doled out peerages to political allies and financial backers.

Mr Griffin – the founder of Addison Lee taxi company who was knighted for services to industry and charity – has given around £4m to the Conservatives.

Mr Dennis, former chief at the McClaren Formula One team, was also knighted for his services to industry and charity. He has donated around £330,000 to the Conservatives, Electoral Commission records show.

Mr Salomon was given an OBE for his educational charity work. The investment banker has donated more than £850,000 to the Tories – including a £10,000 donation to Rishi Sunak’s leadership campaign.

Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin said he hoped his knighthood was not for his ‘political views’
Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin said he hoped his knighthood was not for his ‘political views’ (PA Archive)

The knighthood given to Mr Martin, the outspoken founder of the pub chain, was reportedly pushed for by a fellow Brexiteer in government, Kemi Badenoch.

According to reports in the Daily Mail, the business secretary argued behind the scenes that Brexit-supporting entrepreneurs should not be overlooked.

Mr Martin donated more than £200,000 to the Vote Leave campaign. But he also gave £50,000 to the Tories in 2019 election, as well as £25,000 to the Reform Party.

The Wetherspoon boss said: “I’d like to think that [the knighthood] is not for my rarely disclosed political views – I hope it is for what it says on the tin.”

Mr Martin’s spokesman 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.

The donors are among seven Tory backers given awards, according to analysis in The Guardian. Mr Griffin told the newspaper that politics was “not really my bag” and he had not looked for an honour through his financial support for the Tory party.

The Addison Lee founder said he was “pleased to be a Conservative” but would not be donating in the run-up to the general election in 2024. “I feel now that I’ve done what I’ve done. I may make the odd contribution but nothing really exceptional. They’ve got to fight it out between them.”

Former Mclaren chief and Tory donor Ron Dennis was knighted
Former Mclaren chief and Tory donor Ron Dennis was knighted (PA)

Tom Brake, director of the Unlock Democracy campaign group, said the showed that large political donations “significantly boosts a donor’s chance of a knighthood or OBE”.

He added: “The honours system is long overdue for radical surgery. Time to take the power of patronage away from politicians and give it to the people.”

And Wendy Chamberlain, the Lib Dems’ chief whip, said it was “shocking, given the years of chaos, just how many Tory donors are being rewarded”.

She added: “It makes a mockery of the honours system that aims to celebrate people’s achievements and shows just how out of touch the government is as families across the country continue to struggle to pay their bills.”

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”.

They added: “Donations should be transparent, but that is not an excuse to knock people for broader philanthropy, enterprise and public service.”

Former PM Liz Truss handed peerages and gongs to close allies
Former PM Liz Truss handed peerages and gongs to close allies (PA Wire)

It come as Ms Truss came in for criticism over her resignation honours list – sneaked out on the same day as the New Year’s list.

The former PM, who spent just 49 days at No 10, put forward Matthew Elliott, the former chief executive of Vote Leave, and pro-Brexit Tory donor Jon Moynihan for peerages.

Mr Moynihan donated £20,000 to Ms Truss’s leadership campaign in 2021. As well as the three peerages, Ms Truss nominated eight people to receive honours including MBEs, OBEs and knighthoods. Her list proposes an award for every day-and-a-half she was in office.

Labour branded the honours recommended by Ms Truss “tarnished gongs” that rewarded failed economic policies. The Liberal Democrats described her list as “shameless”.

And campaigners called for urgent reform to the “rotten and out of control” peerage system.

Willie Sullivan, senior director for campaigns at the Electoral Reform Society, said: “It looks like the political class dishing out rewards for failure at a time when many people are still suffering the effects from her turbulent premiership.”

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