Saturday 6 August 2016

Honours Even

As someone who has never been in line for any honour or award, the latest row is of academic interest.  Also, if the Honourable Company of Charladies award their Golden Kneepads of the Year to a member that is their business.

My only wish is that the when the media, arts and acting people do the same it would not be the sole issue of the news of the day.  If aliens did ever decide to land and sort us out they would only have to find the date of one of these ceremonies and we would never know.

The notion of awards and honours have been with us for a long time.  Perhaps the ancients honoured their mammoth hunter of the year.  Back in the 15th Century it is likely that in the Guild of St Anne of Balsall, the member Shakespeare's and Cumberbatch's were happy to recognise those who did most for the sick and the poor.

We are told that the resignation honours of departing Prime Ministers is a relatively recent innovation.  Certainly, it added to the strains on an already creaking system of handing out recognition and awards.  It has become such a sundry collection of items that it is little wonder that it defies rationality or logic.

But how far did those qualities ever exist?  We may like to think of a golden past when they did but digging deep it becomes more and more unlikely.  Basically, there are titles and awards.  Check out the titles and you see very many handed out in the past which raise eyebrows.

My favourite in this is Good King Charles II. One of the most striking collection of titles were handed out to ladies of his court, see picture above.  They were a comely group of lovelies and were a lot more fun that his devoutly religious Queen. Today, a great many of our aristocracy and other upper classes can number one or more of them in the ancestral files.
But monarchs come and go and their views and impact could be very different.  William Pitt the younger was free with peerages it is said and King George III in no position to refuse.  King George IV was easy going, King William IV open to favourites etc.  Queen Victoria was another matter.  Keen on detail, alive to the need to keep the reputation of the monarch and critical by nature, Prime Ministers did not have an easy ride.

King Edward VII was very different, so King George V who followed him certainly had reservations, but this was the age of Lloyd George, Maundy Gregory and the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act of 1925.  But political generosity lived on, winks and nods included.

King Edward VIII might have made some interesting choices, had he been allowed to.  King George VI was quite particular and very well informed on medals and honours but still at the mercy of his ministers.  One feature relating to the House of Lords is forgotten.  That is that the Scottish peers were fixed to a certain number, but this was avoided by the simple device of awarding a subsidiary English title that allowed a seat in The Lords.

Our present monarch has had to deal with a motley collection of Prime Ministers who have had some very individual ideas about what honours, titles and awards are for and who should get them.  As in money and other things we have endured a full half century of inflation and debasement.  Didn't we all have a lot of fun in working out why who got what in Wilson's time?

Recently, it has become much more Alice in Wonderland, that is curiouser and curiouser.  The detail is spared, if only to avoid the attentions of no win no fee libel lawyers.  Despite being something of a traditionalist in many matters, my view is that this nonsense has now gone on far too long and is damaging what is left of The Constitution.

Because the issues have not been addressed as they arose in the past because of politics, yet again we are in the unhappy position of quite radical change being needed with major effects.  This means it will be a lot harder and nastier to achieve, short of a revolution.  Indeed we might recognise major achievements and contribution, but what do we scrap and what will be the new?

Personally, I would leave the military awards alone, they have long had functioning controls that work comparatively well, allowing for the difficulty at the margins of deciding which deserves what.  Also, I would have a separate system for sports with perhaps four or so levels and maybe different sections for achievement and contribution to running them and community work.

As for the rest, peerages included, they would go in their present form and be replaced by six or seven levels, with sections for different forms.  The Order of Merit and Companions of Honour for example would be top level or category with others with a clear stratification down and with sections.  This would finally bring about the end of Empire, although very late in the day.

A major constitutional impact of this would be the end of the House of Lords at last and facing up to the question of the second chamber of Parliament, what it is for and how it functions.  This has been left on the shelf for half a century and it is time to deal with it because the stink is smelling the House out.

All those with titles and awards at present hold them for life and be recognised, but none in the future would be hereditary.

What will matter is the procedures for nomination, the nature of examination of worth, who recommends and who decides.  Whoever can work this out deserves to be one of the first in the top level of honours.

Any ideas? 


1 comment:

  1. I'd get rid of the whole sorry mess. It invites corruption and cronyism.