Russian billionaire newspaper proprietor Evgeny Lebedev and the prime minister’s brother, Jo Johnson, are among dozens of new nominations for peerages announced by Downing Street, while Theresa May’s husband is set for a knighthood.
Evening Standard and Independent owner Lebedev, who held a party in Italy attended by Boris Johnson when he was foreign secretary, is a surprise name among the 36 life peerage nominations which have led to accusations of “cronyism” against the prime minister.
Johnson’s chief strategic adviser, Sir Edward Lister, as well as a host of Tory grandees and well-known Brexiters, including former England cricketer Sir Ian Botham, are also heading for seats in the Lords.
In a sign the prime minister is trying to soothe Tory party divisions, ex-chancellors Philip Hammond and Ken Clarke – brutally stripped of the whip last year after rebelling over Brexit – are also nominated for peerages. They will be joined by the former Scottish Conservatives leader, Ruth Davidson, who is also on the nominations list.
The list of nominations published on Friday also include ex-prime minister May’s husband, Philip – once described by her as a “rock” throughout their marriage – who is being knighted for political service.
The newly announced peerages caused immediate controversy. The Lord Speaker warned that numbers in the House of Lords will now swell beyond 800 despite a previous pledge of restraint over new appointments.
Ex-Labour MPs who backed Brexit – Kate Hoey, Ian Austin, and Gisela Stuart – are also on the list. But noticeably absent are former Commons speaker John Bercow and former Labour deputy leader Tom Watson.
Tory donor and City grandee Michael Spencer is also among those nominated for a peerage. Charles Moore, who as a former Daily Telegraph editor was the prime minister’s boss, and Claire Fox, the ex-Brexit party MEP and former member of the Revolutionary Communist party, are both nominated for non-affiliated peerages.
Neil Mendoza, the provost of Oriel College Oxford who found himself at the centre of the recent Rhodes Must Fall controversy, was also nominated by Johnson for a peerage. He was heavily involved in securing the £1.5bn arts bailout and is expected to play a role in distributing it.
In addition to May’s knighthood, there is the same honour for Ray Puddifoot, the Tory leader of Hillingdon council, which comes within Johnson’s constituency.
The prime minister’s brother, Jo, stood down as a Tory MP at the general election. Months earlier, he had quit his ministerial role serving in his brother’s government, citing an “unresolvable tension” between his family loyalty and the national interest.
Lebedev, who is nominated as a crossbench peer, hosted Johnson at his Italian party in 2018. The prime minister also headed to Lebedev’s London family home in the aftermath of his 2019 election victory to celebrate the 60th birthday of his father, Alexander, a former KGB spy.
There is also a peerage for former Evening Standard editor Veronica Wadley, whose support for Boris Johnson during the 2008 London mayoral election played a key role in his victory over Ken Livingstone.
Reacting to the unveiling of the nominations, the Lord Speaker of the House of Lords, Lord Fowler, said: “This list of new peers marks a lost opportunity to reduce numbers in the House of Lords. The result will be that the house will soon be nearly 830 strong – almost 200 greater than the House of Commons. That is a massive policy U-turn. It was only two years ago that the then prime minister, Mrs May, pledged herself to a policy of restraint in the number of new appointments. It was the first time that any prime minister had made such a pledge.
“This followed a report by a special Lord Speaker’s committee chaired by Lord (Terry) Burns proposing that numbers should be reduced to 600. This was debated by the Lords itself with over 90 speakers, commanding overwhelming support. The big opportunity was for the present government to take forward this movement for reform. I emphasise that this is not a matter of personalities. It is a question of numbers and the abandonment of an established policy to reduce the size of the house.
“It is also a vast pity that the list has been announced within the first few days of the summer recess when neither house is sitting, and the government cannot be challenged in Parliament.”
The Liberal Democrats’ leader in the Lords, Lord Newby, added: “By giving a large number of his cronies peerages, he has shown that the Tories have abandoned any pretence of reducing the size of the bloated House of Lords.”
SNP MP Pete Wishart called the move “the worst kind of cronyism”, accusing the prime minister of giving jobs for life to “friends and those who have done him favours”.
Darren Hughes, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said: “Based on the average claim of a peer, the 36 new peers are likely to cost £1.1m a year in expenses from the taxpayer.
“By appointing a host of ex-MPs, party loyalists and his own brother, the PM is inviting total derision. That he can get away with it shows what a private member’s club this house is.
“The Lords was already the largest second chamber in the world. There are now over 800 unelected peers, voting on our laws for life. Is packing the Lords with party loyalists really a priority, as a pandemic rages across the world? This move is an absolute insult to voters. This is making a mockery of democracy.”