Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RANTS!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 14/06/03

Honours Without Profit

Well, there's another busload. The latest 'Honours List' came out last night.

Perhaps it only matters if you think it does. As a republican, I can't claim that the world would end (or even vaguely wobble upon its axis) if there were ever any real surprises in it. But the whole process contains within it the kernel of the true nature of the society we inhabit.

Firstly, the 'royal' thing. We know that, with few exceptions, Clan Windsor has very little to do with who gets what. The nomination process takes place entirely within the upper reaches of the Civil Service (which may be why so many denizens of that stratum of public administration end up being 'gonged'), and the decision-making is as opaque and secretive as it ever was (are we allowed to know who is on the committee which makes those decisions? It's probably a secret).

The government has been quick to point out that over half of the awards (52%) have been given as a result of public nominations. Yet, if you look at which ribbons went where, you can see that this has changed nothing. The knighthoods and senior awards in the by-now ludicrous Order of The British Empire have still gone to the same categories of people : 'luvvies', pop-stars, kickers-of-balls-of-wind and that curious category of businessmen rewarded for 'services to charity' (I know the Labour Party has fallen on hard times, economically, but not even this has been enough to earn it charitable status - at least, not yet).

And the rest? The home-helps, the lollipop ladies, the fundraisers for local causes, the dedicated schoolteachers and nurses. Well, as ever, they've been given the tin stars, the MBEs. This has replaced the old British Empire Medal as the repository of that official insult, "We think you deserve something, but this is all we think you deserve".

More than half the awards numerically may have gone to 'ordinary' members of society, but when the status of the awards is factored in, the overwhelming value (in terms of social cachet) is still grossly skewed towards celebrities and favour-buyers.

So, what to do about it? Perhaps it would be best to scrap it altogether, possibly encouraging local communities and interest groups at large to make their own awards. At least we may then judge the recipients far more clearly on the basis of who is making the decision (and on what grounds) than can be ascertained at present. This would certainly be preferable to another alternative; namely, having the whole thing sponsored by some tabloid rag where popularity would be the over-riding consideration.

One thing may be said for certain: it will not be until the nurses and teachers get the knighthoods and the over-paid and over-hyped end up with the lids off baked-bean tins that we will know that the system has been dragged into the real world of the twenty-first century.