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Gong… but not forgotten
New year honours, Issue 1487
new-year-2019.jpg THE latest new year honours, insists the government, have gone to “extraordinary people” who have notched up “outstanding achievements”. Who can disagree? Some of the awards certainly are “extraordinary”…


Civil servitude
Theresa May has good reason to be grateful to HM Revenue & Customs chief executive Jon Thompson, whose helpful comments have often been quoted during the Brexit negotiations. “We do not believe – and this has been our consistent advice to ministers – we do not believe we require any infrastructure at the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland under any circumstances,” he told MPs in December 2017. That might not look too smart a reassurance by the time the next honours come round, so he should himself perhaps be grateful for his pre-shitstorm knighthood.

The PM also preferred those public servants doing the dirtiest of her dirty work. So the principal private secretary to the chief whip, responsible for keeping her parliamentary Brexit programme just about alive, Roy Alexander, becomes Sir Roy. And her deputy principal private secretary, William Macfarlane, is awarded a CBE that some might think is deserved if only out of sympathy.

Disabled people, meanwhile, were dismayed to see Richard West, disability services and dispute resolution director at the Department for Work & Pensions, made a companion of the Order of the Bath (CB). For those who have endured discredited personal independence payment assessments, had their benefits cut or been sanctioned, the gong just adds insult to injury.

Veteran Brexiteer John Redwood’s knighthood was of course much criticised, but he isn’t the only Tory politician or supporter recognised. Businessman John H J Lewis, chairman of photo-booth firm Photo-Me, is knighted for “services to the arts and philanthropy”. Most philanthropically he has given the Tories around £390,000 since 2006.

The CBE for Brigadier Geoffrey Van Orden, Tory MEP for the South East, is a consolation prize for a failed political project instigated by David Cameron, who wanted him to create the European Conservatives and Reformists group in the European parliament. This meant the Tories broke away from Europe’s mainstream right and flirted with further-right groups such as Poland’s PiS party. Van Orden eventually recommended Remain in the EU referendum, but, having encouraged Euroscepticism, neither Cameron nor Van Orden could limit it and both lost their jobs.

Neil Thompson, the Ministry of Defence’s head of commercial/procurement for ships, receives a CB for “services to defence”. His role at Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) since 2012 has included acquiring aircraft carriers, Type 26 frigates, offshore patrol vessels and spares for all ships and subs. As Eye readers well know, these deals have not exactly been, er, plain sailing.

Meanwhile an MBE is awarded to Theo Blackwell, chief digital officer for London mayor Sadiq Khan, for “services to local government digital transformation”. Since he’s only been in post a year, the citation must refer to his previous incarnation as a Labour councillor in Camden, where he was cabinet member for finance and technology. In a congratulatory tweet, Camden council credited him with “transforming our working environment, including new offices” – a new £123m building near King’s Cross, where he approved the purchase of 18 boiling-water taps, at £2,500 each, to save staff putting on the kettle. In 2012 the Camden New Journal revealed that Blackwell spent so much time playing the online game World of Warcraft that his character had reached the highest achievable score. Digital service beyond the call of duty!


Strictly business
The honours committee delivered a hefty kick in the guts to hundreds of sub-postmasters who have lost jobs and in some cases their liberty over shortfalls in branch accounts they say are caused by IT flaws. (Many of them are suing the Post Office – see Eyes passim ad nauseam.) Under chief executive Paula Vennells, the publicly owned body has covered up known failings in the system, and her team has fought litigation by almost 600 sub-postmasters in a way that was “undoubtedly aggressive and, literally, dismissive” according to a judge. But never mind! On top of her £720,000 package (up 7 and 8 percent in successive years due to improved profits that have come entirely from cuts in payments to sub-postmasters), lay preacher Vennells is awarded a CBE “for services to the Post Office and to charity”.

One of the top turd-polishing jobs must be PR to defence and aviation company Airbus. For long service putting a gloss on numerous scandals, including the Saudi bribery affair reported by the Eye at subsidiary GPT Special Project Management Ltd, Airbus’s head of public affairs Katherine Bennett receives a CBE.

Paul Grimwood, who recently retired as boss of Nestlé USA after a long career with the chocolate and sugary cereals firm in the UK, is also now a CBE. Asked about Nestlé’s responsibility for the obesity crisis, Grimwood waffled: “There is no one person who should be held accountable for this kind of major issue. But there are a variety of stakeholders.” One of whom now walks away with a medal!

Alison Brittain, who earns £2.3m a year as chief executive of the hotel, café and restaurant group Whitbread, now has a CBE too, for services to business. Last year Channel 4’s Dispatches exposed how Whitbread’s hotel chain, Premier Inn, exploited its workers. Before joining Whitbread, Brittain was head of retail banking at Lloyds from 2011-15. In 2015 the Financial Conduct Authority fined Lloyds £117m for unfairly rejecting complaints made by customers from 2012-13 over mis-sold PPI policies.

There’s also a CBE for Tera Allas, “senior fellow, McKinsey Center for Government”, for services to economic policy. Allas was a top economist at the Department for Business until she left to work for McKinsey in 2015, and she also advised the States of Jersey from 2014 until last April. The message is clear: help direct government economic policy, join a big management consultancy that feeds off public contracts, and advise an offshore dependency helping big money avoid tax – it’s the three-step route to an honour!

The damehood for Ann Gloag, founder and director of Stagecoach Group, is for “services to business and philanthropy”. It could hardly be for services to transport: Stagecoach owns 49 percent of Virgin Trains, which profits from the west-coast mainline but walked away from the east-coast mainline with barely a shrug.


Biddable bankers
This year gongs go to some of those who helped bankers recover – along with big public help – from the 2008 financial crash. James Leigh-Pemberton, the former Credit Suisse banker who ran UK Financial Investments (UKFI) from 2013-17, is now a knight. UKFI managed the public ownership of bailed-out banks, and under Leigh-Pemberton oversaw the Lloyds sell-off. The National Audit Office estimated that shares were sold for up to £5.9bn less than taxpayers had paid for them. His UKFI also advised on the sale of RBS shares at a low price, leading to an estimated £1.1bn loss in 2015.

Martin Taylor, chief executive of Barclays from 1994-98, receives a CBE for services to the economy. Taylor, also a Goldman Sachs adviser up to 2005, was one of the five commissioners behind the 2011 Vickers report, an “independent commission on banking” that was meant to clean up the City after the 2008 crisis. Instead, Taylor et al bottled out, missing the opportunity to change the system.


Learning power
Phonics expert Ruth Miskin is upgraded to a CBE, while many in the education sector continue to question the conflicts of interest that help her Read Write Inc reading scheme maintain such dominance. In 2012, when she was awarded her OBE, there were already questions over her role as the only primary literacy representative on the national curriculum review committee, given her strong commercial interest in one particular phonics scheme (Eye 1317). Since then, Ruth Miskin Training has hoovered up a lot of government education funds.


Artful dodger
A few years ago radical composer and musician Nitin Sawhney said he was offered an OBE by Tony Blair in 2007 but turned it down, explaining that “the idea of the OBE comes from a colonial past, and I just didn’t want Empire after my name”. He has now accepted a CBE, so is a “Commander of the British Empire”. Was he just haggling over the grade, rather than rejecting the principle? Surely not!

More top stories in the latest issue:

FREIGHT EXPECTATIONS
Seaborne Freight’s no-deal Brexit preparations for Ramsgate cause derision in the UK – but the mayor of Ostend isn’t overly impressed either.

BARMY ARMY
Why the widespread criticism prompted by the army’s Snowflakes recruitment advertising campaign should have surprised no one at all.

SELLING HER SOLE?
Remainer fashion dame Vivienne Westwood puts a foot in it with her tacky ‘Brexit court shoes’ – now half-price at £178 a pair!

BIG BROTHER WATCH
Dr Grim on China’s astonishing surveillance (and worse) of the Muslim Uyghur population of Xinjiang province.

LEAVE IT OUT!
How Craig Oliver, David Cameron’s derided spin doctor, managed to emerge as an apparent ‘voice of sanity’ in C4’s Brexit: The Uncivil War.

POSTCARD FROM BELGIUM
An un-festive row over migration contributed to the collapse of the hapless federal government shortly before Christmas.

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Private Eye Issue 1486