The Conservative Party is at the centre of a growing row over the New Year's Honours list amid allegations of cronyism after it emerged that nearly 30 party members or supporters have received awards. The endowments have provoked a strong response after Australian political strategist, Lynton Crosby and HMRC chief executive Lin Homer received a knighthood and damehood respectively.
Crosby was hired by the Tories to lead the party's General Election strategy, which resulted in David Cameron winning an overall majority in May. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said the decision to hand Crosby the award – for doing a job which earned him £500,000 – will leave the public with the impression that the honours system is "an old boy's club".
"The main thing he [Crosby] is known for is introducing the concept of aggressive negative campaigning, or as Boris Johnson described it: 'the dead cat strategy'. Hardly worthy of honouring in this way if at all," said McDonnell. Labour MP for Bishop Auckland, Helen Goodman said: "It's all of a piece with the PM's attempt to pack the House of Lords with his cronies." Crosby has advised conservative parties in a number of countries, including the UK, Australia, Canada and Sri Lanka.
It also calls into question whether the titles were earned for services to the Conservative Party or to the nation. "The honours system is supposed to recognise dedicated public service, not simply be a vehicle to reward Tory cronies and donors. David Cameron should take care not to undermine the integrity of the system", said Labour MP Graham Jones.
The Opposition's Shadow Home Secretary, Andy Burnham said: "This outrageous award is the clearest evidence yet that the Tories think they can get away with whatever they like. It is a timely reminder that Labour must make it a New Year's resolution to stop facing inwards and expose them for what they are."
Notably, the decision to bestow a damehood on Lin Homer for services to public finance has raised eyebrows, given that she has faced a barrage of criticism for her performance in four separate jobs. Speaking before the Commons Treasury Select Committee in November, the HMRC chief executive said she was "very apologetic" for the tax office's "unacceptably poor" level of customer service. In 2013, the Home Affairs Select Committee said it was "astounded" at Homer's HMRC promotion.
The honours list includes more than 15 awards for "political service" to past and present employees and include Conservative MP for North West Norfolk, Henry Campbell Bellingham, Labour chief whip, Rosie Winterton and former Lib Dem frontbencher, Ed Davey.