IT’S an annual tradition to throw your hands up in the air when the New Year Honours list is announced. But this year’s list is particularly appalling.

As political commentator Gerry Hassan writes: “The UK political system is broken and rotten. The debasement of the honours systems is beyond repair and used shamelessly by the Tories. Liz Truss was PM for 49 days, ended up costing us £3 billion minimum and can give three allies jobs as legislators for life – accountable to no one.”

He was referring to the appointments of Matthew Elliott (below), former CEO of Vote Leave, Jon Moynihan, former chair of Vote Leave, and Ruth Porter, Liz Truss’s former deputy chief of staff. Elliott, when he was the CEO of Vote Leave, was given the highest fine possible for electoral offences by the Electoral Commission, and as the Labour MP Chris Bryant reminded us: “Bear in mind that the new Truss peer Matthew Elliott founded the Conservative Friends of Russia group. He now gets to write our laws for life.”

The National: File photo dated 19/5/2016 of Chief Executive of the Vote Leave campaign Matthew Elliott. The Electoral Commission has announced that the lead Brexit campaign group Vote Leave has been fined and referred to the police for breaking electoral law. PRESS

It’s a tried and tested, encrusted tradition to gift your pals a lucrative lifelong post to make laws. What makes this list worse is the spectacle that comes from Liz Truss’s short-lived and utterly disgraced time in office, where she was hooked by her own party for her disastrous reign, causing the country a massive economic hit.

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There were others that were arguably worse than Elliott, Moynihan and Porter. Stephen Hester – on whose watch (2008-13) RBS/NatWest remained at least in part a “rogue” institution – has been given a knighthood. Hester’s peerage is an example of the Old Boys (and girls) network that operates largely below the radar. If Elliott and Moynihan are obvious payoffs for pals, we don’t really know why half of these people are ennobled. We still have the complete mystery of Boris Johnson’s former aide Charlotte Owen who became Baroness Owen of Alderley Edge at the ripe old age of 30. We still have the complete disgrace of Michelle Mone’s elevation to the House of Lords.

But most of it is just about crude cash donations.

At least seven Conservative donors were given honours in the New Year list of awards, including knighthoods for the taxi firm founder John Griffin and the Wetherspoon’s boss Tim Martin. Griffin, the founder of Addison Lee, has given £3 million to the Conservatives and is knighted for “services to industry and charity”. Martin, who donated £400,000 to the Vote Leave campaign and £50,000 to the Tories in the 2019 election, is knighted for “services to hospitality and culture”. More recently, Martin has given £25,000 to Nigel Farage’s (below) Reform party.

The National: Nigel Farage was paid £75 via his Cameo page to make the video

We live in a country where we’ve got more non-elected members of our legislature than elected. Let that sink in.

What’s funny – or not – about the strange undemocracy we live in is that no one intends to do anything about it. Why should they? Lining the pockets of your friends and elevating them to become a lawmaker for life is a powerful tool and it’s in absolutely no one’s interest to change anything at all. The wholly undemocratic and ludicrously overpopulated chamber has become so discredited that the state of the place worries even senior lords. Yet there has not been serious reform in a generation.

The House of Lords and the whole system of patronage relies on an impression of tradition and lies within the wider context of aristocratic rule. If this was stripped down and had none of the trappings of ermine, tradition and hierarchy, it would be brutally exposed for the system of organised cronyism it is. Archaism – as the late Tom Nairn never tired of pointing out – is the defining feature of the decrepit British state. In place of a vibrant critical media, in the absence of a vocal intelligentsia, and with an opposition seemingly scared of standing up for any real change, things as they stand will prevail.

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Routinely, annually, columnists will look at this farce in dismay. In 2022, Andrew Rawnsley wrote in The Observer: “The cure for admiring the House of Lords is to describe it to someone from abroad.

“To an American, you will have to explain why there are more than 800 people entitled to sit in our grotesquely bloated upper chamber when the US manages with 100 senators.

The National:

“To anyone from anywhere, you will need to tell them about the presence of 92 hereditary peers, embedded on the red leather benches because some distant ancestor fought for a long-dead monarch or gave a bung to a long-gone prime minister. When one of these hereditaries shuffles off this mortal coil, there is then the most eccentric kind of ballot. The vacancy is filled at a by-election in which only hereditary peers can participate as candidates and voters.

“The rest are the ‘lifers’, a mix of the good, the bad and the ugly. Some are dedicated people of genuine distinction in fields such as science, public service or business. It would be a pity to lose their wisdom and experience, but a price worth paying to purge parliament of the many peers who are only there because successive party leaders have stuffed the place with cronies, toadies and donors.

“The ranks of the placemen and women have enlarged over recent years, swelling the mob of mediocrities and gargoyles who serve not the public interest, but only their own interests.”

But there is no threshold for change. Not King Charles III choosing to give an “honour” to police commander Karen Findlay, who oversaw the unjustified arrests of republican protesters during his coronation. Not Boris Johnson honouring Charlotte Owen and not David Cameron elevating Michelle Mone.

Not only is it corrupt and indefensible, it is also functionally useless. It is not just that it is stuffed with people with no relevant skills and experience. It is not just that it is an affront to democracy being unelected. It simply doesn’t work as a revising second chamber. It is not a defence against attacks on democracy, it IS an attack on democracy. It remains a gilded retirement home often for politicians who have been deselected or voted out of office by the electorate, but then pop up like bad pennies in the House of Lords. The system of patronage, like the House of Lords, is unreformable, and like the British state which it lies at the very heart of, it is irredeemable.