David Cameron swore the sacked ministers he was conferring honours on to secrecy before announcing the accolades last night at a dinner with the parliamentary party. If it was supposed to create some fanfare and fuss around the departing ministers, it backfired: senior Conservative MPs were unsettled and annoyed by the decision and its timing. Announcing honours outside the normal twice-annual cycle for the New Year and the Queen’s birthday would have been strange anyway, but this comes just weeks after the Public Administration Select Committee criticised the way politicians automatically receive the accolades, regardless of how well they have performed.
Lib Dems are unhappy, too. Bristol West MP Stephen Williams says:
‘Honours should be given at a fixed point in the year as a reward for public service. They certainly should not be a form of consolation prize. It’s also preferable if we see gender balance.’
That ‘gender balance’ comment refers to the fact that the two female cabinet members who were sacked – Cheryl Gillan and Caroline Spelman – did not receive any honours. They were both identified as ministers who were underperforming, but it’s a wonder that Number 10 did not think their absence from the honours list might be interpreted badly, when it was always obvious that reporting of the reshuffle would always examine the treatment of and positions given to women MPs.
One woman who wasn’t sacked, but who did receive a consolation prize for a demotion was Baroness Warsi. James reports in his column that she was so annoyed by the Prime Minister’s decision to move her from the party chairmanship that she went back to Yorkshire. Once home, she continued her negotiations, and one of the concessions Cameron offered was that her two new jobs in the Foreign Office and Communities and Local Government department be gilded with the title ‘senior minister of state’, even though she will not be paid more than other ministers of state.
When this was announced, it caused some consternation amongst journalists, who asked the Prime Minister’s official spokesman a series of questions about this new job title at the afternoon lobby briefing. He responded with the same answer each time: ‘She’s a senior minister of state.’ Does that make other ministers of state junior? ‘She’s a senior minister of state.’ How is her job any different from other ministers of state? ‘She’s a senior minister of state.’Tags: Autumn reshuffle 2012, Baroness Warsi, Honours, UK politics