The Honours system exists to strengthen class divisions in British Society.
The beneficiaries of the major awards are the rich, the powerful and the famous. These are bestowed by the Queen or Prince Charles. Minor bog standard awards are grudgingly given by Lord Lieutenants to thousands of people of modest means and humble jobs. Great numbers of people doing splendid voluntary work or who contribute beyond the call of duty are ignored and un-rewarded
The system institutionalises snobbery and privilege and cements class divisions. Those who are already over privileged by wealth, birth, fame or fortune are further rewarded with titles and medals.
Knighthoods and peerages are freely distributed to the tax-avoiding comedians, overpaid banksters or dreary political time-servers rather than to dedicated charity workers who have inspired and innovated. Teachers, local authority workers, nurses or postmen appear amongst the awards with demeaning minor gongs. Michael Winner famously refused to accept an OBE because that was what should be offered to a toilet cleaner at King’s Cross Station. His comment is accurate. The Honours are distributed on the basis, not of meritorious service, but on the ranking of the recipient in the social ladder of snobbery.
There is a history of selling honours from the times of James 1 in 1611 to Lloyd George in the 1920s. The system was understood by all and had a robust honesty. The rich paid for their baubles of vanity. The poor judged their worth by more accurate criteria. To reduce the deficit, a return to the historic precedent should be considered. The vain-glorious should be allowed to contribute to the nation’s wealth.
Honours are still bought by party donors but there is transparently untrue pretence that merit is the main criterion. All major parties have cynically used the honours system to advance their agendas, to dispose of the troublesome, to silence the soothsayers or to reward the lobotomized loyalists. A knighthood is a convenient lollypop to persuade the bed-blockers to vacate their seats. Promotion to the Lords puts the rebellious into places where they can do less harm.
Having served on the PASC committee in the last parliament investigating the Cash for Honours scandal, I conclude that the evidence pointed to a causal link between party donations and honours. In the 2012 New Year’s honours list there was well founded press derision on the obvious links between donations and knighthoods. A disgraced property tycoon and a hedge fund trader who cashed in on the credit crunch were both in the New Year Honours list.
Ex-convict Gerald Ronson – the great survivor of the Guinness share-trading scandal – was made a CBE. There was a knighthood for Tory donor Paul Ruddock, who has given more than £500,000 to party coffers since 2003.
His firm, Lansdowne Partners, made a staggering £100million from the financial crash by betting that the price of Northern Rock shares would fall and also made millions in a matter of days by predicting the likely slide of other banking shares.
The automatic system of awards among the civil service and the military encourages deference. All will be rewarded in turn if they respect a system of unquestioning obedience to their immediate superiors. There are no rewards for the original thinkers, the pioneers or the innovators. The civil service ethos is based on the supremacy of subservience and the unimportance of being right. The present grey uninspired political and civil service mandarins prove that mediocrity dominates.
The monarch has influence over only a handful of gongs. The choices are exercised by the ludicrously un-representative Lord Lieutenants and Honours Committees weighed down by their own surfeit of medals. The establishment is rewarding and reproducing itself. Lord Lieutenants are chosen from those who are free to do fulltime work without pay. They appoint groups of deputies from friends of similar rank and social standing. If the public became aware of the elite freemasonry who preside over the distribution of honours they would be rightly angered the patronising cheat of a fundamentally unfair system.
The present Honours System fosters and strengthens a society of ossified class barriers and endemic pale drabness.