Labour and Conservative former ministers along with two prominent Tory backbenchers are among the politicians recognised in the King’s Birthday Honours for public service.
Sir Ben Bradshaw, who served in both Sir Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s governments and was only the second MP to be openly gay when elected in 1997, is receiving a knighthood. Long-serving Tory MPs John Baron and Bob Blackman are both made CBEs while former minister Damian Collins and fellow Conservative Heather Wheeler become OBEs.
Sir Ben said he had questioned whether to accept the award in light of the recent controversy surrounding Boris Johnson’s resignation honours list but viewed it “as a thank-you” to all those who supported him over the years.
The Exeter MP told the PA news agency: “I wasn’t sure about accepting it because of doubts about the honour system, and particularly in the light of recent events.
“But also the fact that there are many unsung heroes and heroines in my constituency far more worthy of recognition.
“But I guess I then thought, well, my late dad would have been very proud. My mum would have laughed very loudly.
“So in their memory and on behalf of all the people who’ve supported me in my public and private lives over many, many years, I’d like this to be seen as a thank-you to them really, because without them I couldn’t have done the job.”
Sir Ben, who faced homophobic abuse when he was first elected 26 years ago, also issued a stark warning that LGBTQ+ rights are at risk of “going backwards”.
He said a highlight of his parliamentary career, which saw him serving a number of ministerial roles including as culture secretary in 2009-10, was the “fantastic” progress made on LGBTQ+ equality during Sir Tony Blair’s government.
But he said it feels like “things have come full circle” with the “moral panic that’s being stoked against trans people” today.
He added: “The LGBTQ+ community and their allies and the overwhelming majority of the British people who support equality, we must all redouble our efforts to ensure that hard-won rights and freedoms are not reversed.”
Sir Ben, 62, who is stepping down as an MP at the next general election, also paid tribute to the people he has represented in Parliament for over a quarter of a century.
“I consider myself incredibly lucky to have served such a fantastic constituency as Exeter, which must be the nicest constituency in the country.”
On his plans for post-MP life, Sir Ben said he will “move to a smallholding in Sicily and improve the productivity of my olive trees”.
Mr Baron, who has been MP for Basildon and Billericay since 2001, said he was “elated and surprised” to learn of his award.
“I was elated and surprised in the sense that I wasn’t expecting it. You don’t come into this job expecting anything, you come in to serve,” he said.
Mr Baron, who has not always toed the party line on foreign policy matters in the past, said the highlight and challenge of his career has been to serve as a “lone voice” on interventions.
He left Iain Duncan Smith’s shadow cabinet in 2003 in protest over the leader’s support of the Iraq war and later led calls to prevent UK military action in Syria under David Cameron.
“If you vote as you see matters then you don’t always expect to be applauded by your own side,” he said. “But overall in 22 years of service, I’m reflecting and thinking I’m pleased I did it. Even if it hasn’t always been a smooth ride and you haven’t always won all the battles you would like to have done – that’s life isn’t it?”
An arch Brexit supporter, Mr Baron said he was “delighted” to have been instrumental in pushing in 2013-14 for the vote on the EU referendum, a time which he describes as an “active period” in his career.
But his priority will continue to be his constituents, he said. “I’ve always put my constituency first and last. You start and finish there, literally. I’m focusing on my day job.”
Mr Baron, 63, said a “small minority” within his party questioning the damning parliamentary report that found Mr Johnson lied to MPs would not distract him from his job.
He will be supporting the Privileges Committee’s findings if they come to a vote on Monday, he confirmed.
“I think no individual or indeed party is bigger than Parliament and we must maintain the integrity of Parliament,” he told PA.
Mr Baron had already concluded that Mr Johnson had misled MPs over partygate, he said, adding: “You cannot allow that to happen, otherwise we’re on a very slippery slope. I’m a parliamentarian first and last, and the integrity of Parliament and its standing – we’re very lucky to have the political system we have in this country.”
Fellow Tory Mr Blackman said Friday would be a “double celebration” of both his award and the third reading of his Supported Housing (Regulatory Oversight) Private Members’ Bill, which targets landlords providing poor support to vulnerable residents, in the House of Lords.
“I think there might be a bit of alcohol involved – not too much – and a good dinner,” the Harrow East MP told PA.
Mr Blackman’s first Private Member’s Bill – the Homelessness Reduction Act – marks his “proudest moment” in Parliament, he said.
“It meant that vulnerable people who are threatened with becoming homeless… had to be assisted by local authorities,” he said.
“I’m highly delighted, and pleased for my wife as well because she stood by me throughout all these many years,” Mr Blackman, 67, said of receiving a CBE.
In a nod to the controversy over Boris Johnson’s resignation appointments list, he added: “I’m pleased that it is the King’s Birthday Honours rather than any resignation honours.”
Ms Wheeler, who served in both Theresa May and Boris Johnson’s governments including as government chief whip, said she was “delighted” to be recognised.
“I don’t think anyone in my family has ever had an OBE before,” she said.
She said serving constituents in the “brilliant” seat of South Derbyshire and “working so closely with our town councillors and the community” had been the privilege of her career.
“I love it,” Ms Wheeler said.
Ms Wheeler paid tribute to those she had worked alongside, saying the honour reflects their efforts as well as her own.
On her parliamentary career, she said being at the “heart of everything” while parliamentary secretary in the Cabinet Office, along with her work in the Whips’ Office, were highlights.
“I must be one of the few people Boris has sacked twice and brought back twice,” she joked.
Published: by Radio NewsHub