Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
10 September 2019

The shock of Theresa May’s resignation honours list is that she thinks Nick Timothy worth rewarding

Failing upwards.

By Jonn Elledge

I didn’t really imagine my respect for Theresa May had any further to fall. Then again, I didn’t really imagine the government that followed hers could be somehow worse, yet here we are. Perhaps I’m just not very imaginative.

The reason that my respect is plumbing new depths down into the Earth’s mantle today is that we now know who is on Theresa May’s resignation honours list. I wouldn’t say that I’m shocked, exactly, because that would imply at least some degree of surprise, and no matter how appallingly any Conservative leader of the last 18 years has behaved, none of it really shocks me anymore. So this isn’t the sharp stab of rage so much as the dull throb of disappointment confirmed, the political equivalent of a dehydration headache, when the light is too bright and you just want to go hide in a darkened room until the headache/the Tory party stops. Which it won’t.

As it happens, there is only one thing about the list that is, while not exactly shocking, still unexpected enough to raise a world-weary eyebrow.

It isn’t the fact that Theresa May has awarded a knighthood to Geoffrey Boycott, the ex-cricketer and current cricket commentator, who in 1998 was convicted by a French court of assaulting his then girlfriend Margaret Moore. (He has always denied the charges.)

That move has been attacked by domestic abuse charities as “deeply disappointing”, leading Boycott to hit back that, “I don’t give a toss”, and the fact he doesn’t care what women think of him obviously isn’t shocking either. But anyway. As long as she’s been prominent in politics, Theresa May has used the language of feminism and social justice while pursuing anti-feminist and socially unjust policies, and this is all of a piece. She was never concerned about, or apparently even aware of, her own hypocrisy before. Why should we expect her to start now she’s demob happy?

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. Your new guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture each weekend - from the New Statesman. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

Nor is the cronyism of the list any surprise. Every honours list since the year dot has been greeted with outrage that prime ministers have chosen to reward their aides and donors, but the fact it happens every year like clockwork makes it difficult to get worked up about. That’s just what the honours system is: it’s a cost-free way of saying thanks, and all you have to do in exchange is not read the papers for the one day of the year when anybody cares, and then the world moves on.

So the fact May’s resignation honours list includes a knighthood for her erstwhile director of communications, peerages for senior advisors and major donors, and a dozen other honours for close personal aides is all entirely predictable. Even the fact that May once made a speech suggesting David Cameron’s decision to award a knighthood to his own former communications director made her “retch” isn’t enough to shake this insouciance because, well, Theresa May is a massive hypocrite, isn’t she? See above.

The only slight surprise here lies in the detail of exactly which aides May chose to reward. Because one CBE has gone to Nick Timothy – the man, you may recall, who was responsible for the speech that lost May the support of affluent ethnic minorities and the election campaign that killed her majority, and so was more responsible than any other human on the planet for rendering Britain ungovernable for the past 27 months and quite possibly for every month to come.

It isn’t the fact that Theresa May would want to reward her allies that baffles me. It’s the fact that, after that performance, she still considers Nick Timothy to be one of them, since he’s done more damage to her reputation and her authority than the combined forces of Labour, the Lib Dems, the European Research Group and the European Commission have ever managed. Perhaps his punishment can be found in the fact that he has not, thus far, been sent to the Lords.

Nick Timothy is well used to failing upwards in a way we mortals can only dream of, of course. Since single-handedly destroying the government in which one can only assume he was a Labour plant, he has walked into a gig on the organising committee of Birmingham’s 2022 Commonwealth Games, and written regular columns for the Daily Telegraph advising his former bosses about how to win elections, surely the only column in Britain given quite deliberately to the single least qualified person to write it. Even better, some genius on the paper decided to headline it “Ideas to win”. It’s as if Neville Chamberlain was commissioned to write a pamphlet offering 20 tips on averting World War II.

There’s only one other thing that concerns me about this honours list. It’s the fact it raises the very real spectre that, one day, former Prime Minister Boris Johnson may decide to send Dominic Cummings to the Lords. The speeches will never end, will they? Now that’s something that really should frighten us.