Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians called for an overhaul of the system as it emerged one of Cameron’s last acts in office was to propose rewards for more than 40 allies, including four cabinet ministers and donors to the Conservatives and the EU remain campaign.
One of the most controversial knighthoods named on the list is proposed for Ian Taylor, an oil executive who gave almost £1m to the Conservatives in the past 18 months and helped fund the campaigns against Scottish independence and in favour of the EU. Andrew Cook, an engineering businessman who donated the use of a private jet to Cameron before the 2010 election and donated about £250,000 to the remain campaign, is similarly in line for a knighthood.
According to the leak, Cameron recommended awards for more than 20 Downing Street advisers and staff and knighthoods for the pro-EU cabinet ministers Philip Hammond, Michael Fallon, Patrick McLoughlin and David Lidington. George Osborne, Cameron’s closest political friend, who lost his job as chancellor after helping run the unsuccessful remain campaign, was put forward to become a companion of honour.
There was also criticism over a proposed CBE for Will Straw, the chief executive of the failed cross-party pro-EU campaign, who is the son of the former home secretary Jack Straw and a former Labour parliamentary candidate.
It is said to include proposed OBEs for the Downing Street aide Isabel Spearman, a former PR for a luxury handbag designer who assisted Samantha Cameron with her diary, official parties and outfits for engagements, and for Osborne’s aide Thea Rogers, an ex-BBC producer.
The list, leaked to the Sunday Times in an unprecedented breach of secrecy, comes on top of a separate slate of those recommended for peerages, which is tipped to include two longstanding former aides, Gabby Bertin and Liz Sugg.
Cameron started as Conservative leader by saying he wanted to clean up politics, but Guardian research has found he handed peerages to at least 13 major Tory party donors during his tenure, as well as a number of knighthoods and lesser honours.
The Cabinet Office refused to say whether May personally has the power to block the list put forward by her predecessor. However, it is understood that only the current prime minister has the power to make the formal recommendation of names to the Queen.
Precedents suggest that no previous leader has put a stop to the requests of their predecessor, nonetheless, some of the names could drop off the final list if May or officials are not happy with them.
There is speculation that approvals have been held up because of concerns within Whitehall about the list. A No 10 source said the list was made by the previous administration in line with the tradition of the prime minister’s resignation honours list.
Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader,said the recommendations reflect badly on May as they are being awarded under her premiership. “I hope Theresa May is not going to stake her reputation on David Cameron’s old boys’ network,” he said. “That Mr Cameron proposes to reward his friends network on such a huge scale will not only bring the honours system into disrepute, it will undermine the reputation of Theresa May. It’s cronyism, pure and simple and proof the Tories will always put their own interests before those of the country.”
Andy Burnham, the shadow home secretary and candidate for mayor of Greater Manchester, called for the honours to be blocked. “Regardless of the fact that they come from an outgoing prime minister, these recommendations should be turned down,” he said. “If they are accepted, they will destroy any remaining shred of respect for the honours system.
“Many people voted leave out of sheer frustration at an out-of-touch political elite. This honours list reads like a two-fingered salute back to the public. It sums up everything that is wrong with Westminster politics.”
The Labour leadership candidate Owen Smith signalled he was in favour of reviewing the system.
“The list of names David Cameron has recommended for honours reads like the most eloquent possible argument for overhauling the whole honours system,” he said. “I’m disappointed that the former prime minister should use the system to slap his friends on the back. Yet it shows just how warped a sense of perspective this Tory party has governed with.
“The current system sends completely the wrong message about what achievements we should value as a society. Instead of handing out gongs to establishment bigwigs and the super rich, we need a system that honours the selfless acts of people right across our country, celebrating those who serve others and their communities.”
Tim Farron, the Lib Dem leader, said: “Cameron’s cronyism on this dishonours the honours system.”
Sources close to Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, have previously indicated he would like to replace the honours system with a fairer way of rewarding people for public service.
There have been numerous rows in the past about cronyism, and attempts to strip honours from people who have later fallen from public favour.
Just six months ago, Cameron was criticised for a list of honours that included a knighthood for Lynton Crosby, the strategist who helped him to win a majority at the general election.
This article was written by Rowena Mason Deputy political editor, for theguardian.com on Sunday 31st July 2016 19.55 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010