A major Tory donor has requested not to be given a knighthood, amid an intensifying row over David Cameron’s honours list.
Ian Taylor, an oil executive at Vitol, wrote to Theresa May requesting his name be taken off the list, after he was named as a Tory donor and funder of the pro-EU campaign who had been put forward by Cameron for an honour.
In a statement, Taylor said: “In recent days, speculation in the media has suggested that I may be recognised in the forthcoming resignation honours list. This has been accompanied by seriously inaccurate comments about the company I lead. In these circumstances, I think it is right I request that my name does not go forward, if indeed I was being considered for an honour.
“Tonight, I am writing both to the outgoing and the current prime minister requesting that I would not wish to be considered for an honour at this time.”
As the row over Cameron’s decision to reward donors, aides and pro-EU campaigners in his resignation list entered its third day, with no sign of abating, allies of May tried to dissociate her from the controversy by signalling she would do things differently from her predecessor when it comes to handing out honours.
The prime minister has come in for criticism from Labour and the Lib Dems for her refusal to block the honours proposed by her predecessor, with Downing Street saying that would set a very bad precedent.
In a clear attempt to distance May from the row engulfing Downing Street, Conservative allies said she would be more careful than Cameron not to open herself up to the charge of cronyism when she hands out rewards for public service.
“Anyone who has worked with her knows there will be no abuses of the system,” a government source said.
The attempts to disassociate May from Cameron’s choices comes as she is under pressure herself over the list proposed by Cameron because the prime minister has the power to block the recommendations before they reach the Queen.
At least one Conservative party donor, Michael Spencer, is believed to have been stopped from getting a peerage by Whitehall after a last-ditch attempt by Cameron to secure him entry to the House of Lords. But many of the other honours on the list, leaked to the Sunday Times, are expected to go through.
On Tuesday night, May was also facing calls to reopen cross-party talks on reforming funding of political parties, as campaigners claim the current system opens up politics to being influenced by big money and many major donors end up rewarded with peerages or other honours.
Lord Bew, the chair of the committee on standards in public life, said he would be making a fresh push for progress after such talks aimed at bringing greater integrity to the funding of political parties reached stalemate during Cameron’s premiership.
Bew wrote after last year’s general election to Cameron, Harriet Harman, then acting Labour leader, and other party leaders, asking them to get back around the table.
A year on from that call, Bew told the Guardian he would be writing to the new party leaders including May and Jeremy Corbyn, as well as the others, reminding them of his call for discussions as his committee prepares to publish new figures on party funding this week.
Bew said the debate was fractious and difficult to resolve but there was some opportunity for progress, starting with small areas of agreement between the parties.
“There are controversies about the Sunday Times story [on honours]. But the big question that links it all up is this one on party funding,” he said. “The British people themselves think you would only give money to a party unless you expect a peerage or some such goody but they also believe they should not have to contribute a penny towards funding political parties – which would solve the problem.”
Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader, issued a challenge to May to return to the issue. “With a new leader and a new Tory party chairman, I now challenge them to join me to restart the cross-party talks on funding for political parties,” he said.
“Big money from union barons and big money from rich donors must not continue to warp our politics. This whole sorry saga of Cameron’s cronies shows how we must kick big money out of politics.”
A Conservative spokesman signalled the party could be willing to make some progress, after the stalemate of the last parliament.
He said: “The numerous inter-party party funding talks over the last decade have failed to reach any consensus – they were too focused on complex and controversial structural changes. Neither is there any public demand for more state funding of political parties. During the trade union bill, the Conservative party suggested reforms to promote small-scale fundraising that would command broad support, rather than trying and failing to achieve an all-or-nothing, ‘big bang’ solution.”
During his time as prime minister, Cameron recommended at least a dozen party donors to sit in the House of Lords, triggering persistent accusations of cronyism.
Research by the Guardian has found a string of Conservative donors granted peerages under Cameron have poor speaking and attendance records in the House of Lords.
Six of the donor peers have contributed just a handful of times to debate in the chamber since entering the House of Lords, and one has already retired, while retaining his title.
Anthony Bamford, who had personally given more than £100,000 while associated companies provided £4.7m, has spoken just twice in the main chamber since joining in 2013. In the year to February – the last month for which data is available – he is registered as having attended five times.
Michael Bishop, who became Lord Glendonbrook and has given the party more than £1m, has made just one contribution on the floor of the Lords and is registered as attending only 16 times in the year to February.
Other examples include George Magan, who gave the party almost £1.5m. He has spoken twice since joining the Lords in 2011. Robert Edmiston, another major donor whose companies have contributed around £4.5m, spoke just five times before retiring as a working peer four years later.
A minority of peers who are also major Tory donors have made significant contributions to the House of Lords. These include Dolar Popat, who has given the party more than £200,000, but became whip and has made more than 340 speeches in the Lords since 2010.
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