In recent days it has come about that Lynton Crosby, the Australian political strategist who pioneered the Conservative Party’s victory in the 2015 General Election, will be receiving a knighthood in the New Years Honours list for “public service” . Obviously this is clearly corruption but Labour MPs have been lining up to criticise this decision as “bringing the honours system into disrepute”. This is also incorrect because this implies that this system was reputable in the first place.
Firstly let’s address the most obvious part of the story. The point of honours is to recognise people for ‘services to the nation’ and this is often given to people that have done something impressive. For example Alex Ferguson was knighted for ‘services to football’ because, even if you don’t support Manchester United, a British team winning the FA Cup, the Premier League and the UEFA Champions League in the same season was seen to reflect well on Britain. Similarly Helen Mirren was awarded a damehood for ‘services to acting’ because of her decorated career as an actor.
If this was the case of all recipients I would have less against it (I still would oppose the system but my opposition would be less noisy). However for as long as the system has existed political servants and civil servants have been rewarded for partisan reasons, as is illustrated by the fact that political parties have their own appointments. A few weeks ago former Lib Dem minister Danny Alexander was knighted and you can’t go through a list of former senior civil servants without finding a disproportionate number of former members of the establishment being honoured by the new members of the same establishment.
Labour MPs like Paul Flynn and Mary Creagh who have derided this decision do have somewhat of a point because Crosby’s only ‘service to Britain’ has been winning the Conservative’s the election and therefore there is not even a cosmetic bipartisan justification of his honour. However the line of argument is contingent upon the idea that the Honour System is somehow meritocratic which is not true because as I’ve pointed out honours for politicians and members of the establishment are nothing new. All Crosby’s knighthood shows is the continuation of this trend.
Why should we oppose the Honours System? Many reasons.
Firstly I don’t believe that the government has any right to determine who and who isn’t honourable. This government has cut welfare to the point where people are becoming mentally ill and some are committing suicide. This government has suggested new cuts in the education budget that could result in the closure of four in ten sixth form colleges thus preventing young people from becoming more educated. The Prime Minister himself has accused the Leader of the Opposition of being a “terrorist sympathiser” and a “threat to your family”. How can any British government, let alone this one, decide who is and who isn’t worthy of being called honourable when they themselves are not? How can a government that is openly hostile to human rights legislation decide who we as citizens should revere?
Secondly the nomenclature of the Honours System is antiquated and down right offensive to any lover of democracy. OBEs, CBEs, MBEs etc. all illustrate how this system should be updated or abolished entirely as these all point to an outdated chivalric and imperialistic system. Officer of the British Empire, Commander of the Order of the British Empire, Member of the Order of the British Empire; all of these titles should be an insult to anybody who claim to support democratic government or oppose colonialism, which is why many outspoken republicans have not accepted honours.
Finally the actual ceremony of being awarded an honour for your apparent services to your field takes place at Buckingham Palace. Although the honours lists are decided by politicians the honours themselves are bestowed upon people by a representative of the Royal Family which is often the Queen or Prince Charles. What has Prince Charles done that gives him the right to bestow these honours upon people? The answer is nothing. If the monarchy cannot give people honours and the government is morally bankrupt, how can the honours system continue?
People want to be validated by some form of authority but we need to get away from this. If recognised for our work we need to say that the people themselves are the judges of people’s honour rather than the British government itself. Would Helen Mirren be any less of an actor if she wasn’t given an honour? Of course she wouldn’t because her success is seen in the eyes of all people and not just politicians. Let’s be clear about this: the honours system is used as a political tool to both legitimise the state as some kind of moral authority and to reward political cronies for their clandestine work for the establishment. It’s time to get rid of it.