Volume 54, Number 8, September 2016
It’s an honour IT SEEMS that the “shock” of Brexit has worn off a little, at least as far as the press is concerned, and they are now turning their attention to the political aftermath, indeed bloodbath, that has followed the referendum vote. First there was Cameron’s resignation, then Gove’s “stab in the back”, the second female PM, Boris’s Lazarus-like return from the political wilderness, the seemingly never-ending turmoil in the Labour Party and then back to Cameron again—this time specifically his “resignation honours” list and the inevitable controversy that followed. David “we’re all in it together” Cameron had clearly decided that now he was out of number 10 he didn’t really care what the press, or indeed the public, thought about his choices of those he wished to reward for their services and his honours list was released to much criticism and derision. The inclusion of his wife’s stylist and George Osborne’s dietitian (officially special advisors both) on the list, raised eyebrows and the rewards doled out to those who supported the losing “remain” side in the referendum (the side Cameron supported of course), were met with howls of protest but, as Theresa May has refused to intervene, they will, it seems, all stand. Labour didn’t come out of it much better as, in a spectacular own goal, their one inclusion on the list was Shami Chakrabarti, erstwhile of human rights group Liberty. Ms Chakrabarti has recently chaired an inquiry into anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, an inquiry many considered something of a whitewash—her appointment as a life peer is seen by some as a reward for that whitewash . . . ! So criticism levelled at both sides of the house. Not since Harold Wilson’s infamous “Lavender List” some 40 years ago has an honours list come in for quite such criticism, but then again it’s rare to find a list that doesn’t come in for some! Every party, regardless of political hue, comes in for some level criticism whenever it seems that they have “rewarded” somebody with an honour if that somebody has, in any way given that party any assistance—whether as the chair of an inquiry or by getting out their cheque book. “Cash for honours” and the intendent furore from the press is nothing new, indeed it goes back far further than 1976 and good old Harold—it’s been going on for centuries! We all know that the “great and the good” have been rewarded with gongs since time in-memoriam; since the Orders of Chivalry were first introduced they have been awarded to those closest and most loyal to the powers-that-be, whether that is the monarch or the government and we mere mortals know we don’t really stand much of a chance of getting one. The Orders that grace our collections today were not, as a rule, awarded to “just anybody”, they were always awarded to “somebody who was somebody”, with your average Joe rarely getting a look in. Certainly every now and then the papers will run a story about a lollipop lady who is awarded an MBE and much is made of the so-called classless honours, but deep down we all know that such things are not for the likes of us, they never have been and never will be—and actually that’s OK. The very fact that the average man in the street doesn’t get an honour every January 1, mid-way through the summer or whenever a PM resigns is, actually, a blessing; yes, it might be nice to think we may one day be recognised for whatever it is we do, but the fact that in order to be so honoured we have to have done something really rather special makes it so much sweeter when an MBE, OBE or, heaven forfend, a CBE is given out to the lower orders! If everybody got an MBE for donning a yellow suit and holding up a “STOP: CHILDREN” sign then it wouldn’t mean anything and if everybody who ran a successful business got an OBE or a knighthood we’d be knee deep in medals—every Rotary Club dinner and the seating plan would be a nightmare! The fact that for “ordinary” people an honour, be it a medal or a knighthood, is something of a rarity, only adds to its prestige, both for those who receive it and those who get to hear about it. If the honours system is revised, as those opposed to “Cameron’s Crony List” want, and more honours are awarded to those of us who aren’t bankrolling a party or campaign or who haven’t had the (mis)fortune to work closely with a politician or their spouse, then such awards will become more commonplace, more ordinary—they will lose their shine, their impact, and will be rendered as obsolete as if they had been abolished all together. Yes, Dave’s latest list is being seen as “gongs for the boys”, but better that than gongs for everyone. Think of it this way: you may well want a Ferrari or Aston Martin but wouldn’t it rapidly lose its allure and appeal if everybody had one?
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