Magazine article The Spectator

Why Has There Been a Steady Stream of Leaked Honours since 1997? Work It out for Yourself

Magazine article The Spectator

Why Has There Been a Steady Stream of Leaked Honours since 1997? Work It out for Yourself

Article excerpt

'It is very unfortunate and reprehensible,' Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's director of communications, is on record as saying, 'if people leak news of the forthcoming honours list.' Campbell is quite right on this point. It has traditionally been the case that honours are kept strictly private until they are gazetted by Buckingham Palace. The Queen is the fount of all honour. While in practice Downing Street decides who gets which gongs, honours remain in the monarch's gift. Leaking them is indeed a form of lesemajesty. Only those in receipt of honours know in advance, and they receive a ferocious warning not to share their happiness with the world until the day itself. That is why honours lists have traditionally remained such a closely guarded secret.

In recent years there has been a brutal change in this position. The publication of both the New Year and Birthday honours have been preceded by a string of leaks. Any newsworthy recipient stands a very good chance of seeing his good fortune splashed across the front pages of the tabloid press in advance of official publication in the London Gazette. This development dates back exactly five years, to the day when New Labour gained power in May 1997. Labour was at it within weeks of taking office. One government spin doctor leaked to friendly newspapers the fact that Delia Smith, the cookery writer, was to be given a peerage. Unfortunately, this piece of information caused mayhem because it was proved wrong - Smith had appeared only on an early draft list and had turned the offer down.

Take the New Year honours list just six months ago. Two weeks in advance of the big day, the Sun ran a long, confident, authoritative Page Three story that 'Pop legends the Bee Gees are to be awarded gongs in the New Year's Honours List'. A week later there was another leak. Beneath a prominent 'exclusive' tag, George Pascoe-Watson, the paper's indefatigable deputy political editor, revealed that the Tesco chief Terry Leahy 'will be knighted in the New Year's Honours'. In the second paragraph Pascoe-Watson was careful to make clear whose decision it had been. 'Prime Minister Tony Blair decided on the top award for Mr Leahy,' he reported. The following day it was the turn of the Sunday Telegraph to get in on the act. Francis Elliott, political correspondent at the Sunday Telegraph, revealed that the England cricket captain, Nasser Hussain, was set to get the OBE. His story made a big Page Three lead.

This time last year, it was the Times which was given an advance gawp at the Dissolution honours list. The paper's political team revealed that Paddy Ashdown and Michael Heseltine were getting peerages, alongside David Clark, Peter Brooke and the unionists John Taylor and Ken Maginnis. Scroll back to the 2001 New Year honours, and the Sun was informed in advance about ace jockey Frankie Dettori's MBE. It was also the Sun which came out on top ahead of the Birthday honours list in the millennium year. George Pascoe-Watson pulled off the coup, securing exclusive information that Michael Caine was to be awarded a knighthood. Once again, Pascoe-Watson made plain that the decision was nothing to do with the Queen. 'The double Oscar winner,' he reported, 'will become Sir Michael in the Queen's Birthday Honours on the recommendation of Tony Blair.' He quoted a `government source' who told him: `We are going to sort it for Michael. He will get a knighthood. It is extraordinary that he has never been honoured in this way.'

There were leaks all round for almost everyone ahead of the New Year list at the end of 1999. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.