A company boss who has given nearly £1m to the Conservative party and long-serving MPs from across the Commons head the list of political figures who receive a knighthood in this year’s New Year honours list.
David Ord, who becomes a knight in the new year, is a co-owner of Bristol ports and a member of the Conservative party’s Leaders’ Group, who were granted exclusive access to cabinet ministers under David Cameron and George Osborne. He has given more than £930,000 to the party since 2013.
Ord, a major opponent of the Severn Barrage, was once embroiled in a donations row after it emerged in 2014 that Bristol North West MP Charlotte Leslie had failed to declare the port owner’s donations to her local party on time, despite making numerous parliamentary interventions about the project. She apologised and was cleared of wrongdoing by the parliamentary watchdog.
Jeremy Corbyn said the honours for Tory donors were an insult to those who had been rewarded for charitable work or achievements. “The Conservatives are making a mockery of our honours system,” the Labour leader’s spokesperson said. “Every crony appointment is an insult to the incredible people from right across Britain who are rewarded for the great contributions they make to our national life.”
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A Downing Street source defended the honours for Conservative donors, saying: “Being involved in political parties is generally considered to be an important part of civic society, and the alternative is having state funding for political parties, which is not where the consensus lies. When people dedicate their time and service to civil society it’s appropriate they can be honoured.”
Two veteran sitting MPs were knighted. Conservative MP Julian Brazier and Labour’s David Crausby, a former member the HS2 select committee, which sat for almost 100 days over eight months taking evidence from up to 40 petitioners a day.
Former Lib Dem minister Steve Webb, one of the architects of the coalition’s “triple-lock” pension guarantee and auto-enrolment in workplace pensions, has also been knighted.
Vera Baird, the former Labour MP who is now Northumbria police and crime commissioner, has been made a dame for services to women and equality. The former QC, who was solicitor general under Gordon Brown, was honoured for her role in the Equality Act 2010. Baird said she saw the honour as “giving the cause of equality a boost”.
Politicians receiving the highest honours included Liberal Democrat peer Shirley Williams, who has been made a companion of honour to mark more than 50 years in political life. Lady Williams, a former Labour education secretary under James Callaghan, was one of the so-called gang of four of influential Labour politicians who split to form the Social Democrat party, which later merged with the Liberal party to form the Lib Dems.
Other Tory donors receiving honours this year include associate party treasurer Dominic Johnson, who lent the Cameron family his west London townhouse rent-free when the former prime minister resigned and left No 10.
The register of MPs’ interests shows that the family stayed in the Chelsea property until the end of October before they moved back into their Notting Hill home, which had been rented out.
M&C Saatchi founding director Jeremy Sinclair, credited as the brains behind the famous Conservative campaign poster showing Tony Blair with “demon eyes”, also receives a CBE.
Key members of Conservative party headquarters have also been honoured, including director of campaigning Darren Mott, who received an OBE, with Alexandra Broadrick, chief of staff to the party chairman, and Louise Goodall, the deputy head of fundraising, receiving MBEs.
Whitehall staff also received dozens of awards, including 14 for Home Office officials who served under Theresa May when she led the department. However, some critics questioned the number of awards handed out to staff from HMRC, given the recent poor performance of the department.
Staff received the honours for their work on tackling tax non-compliance and tax avoidance, as well as for customer service. The department was recently criticised by the National Audit Office for pursuing only one successful criminal prosecution despite a new specialist unit identifying almost £2bn in tax evasion and avoidance by the super-rich.
The Lib Dem leader, Tim Farron, said the honours for HMRC investigators “dishonour the honours system” given the department’s poor performance on tax evasion and delays on consumer hotlines.
“HMRC have had the worst year; not only billions of pounds not collected from the biggest tax dodgers, but the average punter has been made to wait for hours on the phone on hold,” he said. “It’s a farce. I thought this was a joke, but it’s not.”
A government source said it had a “proud record of tackling tax evasion, one of the toughest in the developed world, and not only are these civil servants being rewarded for their work, the service itself is doing good work.”