Above, the Royal Arms of the now defunct Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Mr Paul Dacre Editor of the Daily Mail is a particularly happy bunny today. Why? Because he like all journalists knows a good story when he sees one and of course this will help sell copies of the Daily Mail. The reason for Mr Dacre’s ebullience is of course the 2016 news years honours that features such luminaries as Jacqueline Gold whose Wikipedia entry can be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacqueline_Gold
The Daily Mail’s take on the New Years honours can be found here: Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3379514/Tainted-New-Year-Honours-Gongs-sex-shop-queen-boss-shambolic-tax-office-cronies-donors-bungling-bureaucrats.html#ixzz3vtiC2xZC
The full New Year Honours list for 2016 can be found on the government’s website, here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/new-years-honours-list-2016
Examining the list in full one can see the problem: Democracy.
You see, the honours list has for a long time now been a highly political exercise. This is why in the 1960s the then Wilson government started to make awards to such as the Beetles. At the time establishment figures were outraged. To the DM’s criticism of upper echelon civil servants being honoured, this is a long established tradition – that those choosing a career in public service and therefore forgoing the high financial rewards paid by commerce receive their compensation in the form of “gongs.” This is a long established practise in monarchies and the only reason why the UK is now unusual is that other monarchies have changed and many nations that had monarchs are now republics. In fact, “gongs” are a good deal for the taxpayer for it enables the taxpayer to receive the services of “high flyers” on the cheap!
The problem for the politicians is that they want to be popular and therefore they want to award “gongs” to those personalities that make them appear to be “connected to the people” and “in tune” with public opinion.
This is why Professor Sir Colin Blakemore was passed over so many times for his knighthood that was reported in this organ here: http://www.british-gazette.co.uk/2014/06/16/at-last-it-is-professor-sir-colin-blakemore-kt-fmedsci-fibiol-hon-frcp-frs/
It is also why Sir Bradley Wiggins the cyclist was knighted. The DM ran an interesting and revealing interview with Sir Bradley Wiggins on 10th May 2015, here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/othersports/article-3075719/Sir-Bradley-Wiggins-accepted-knighthood-offer-granddad-ve-turned-grave-d-rejected-it.html
The problem with the honours system however is fundamental and the basic problem is that the public in general have a lopsided view as to who should get honours and at what grade. Knighting Olympic champion and sporting hero was popular.
However, on a rational considered assessment a CBE would have been the generous side of a correct level and many athletes who were awarded CBE should have received OBE, many of those sporting stars awarded OBE should have received MBE and those awarded MBE being awarded BEM.
So, what is the solution?
The government website (https://www.gov.uk/guidance/honours-committees) states: “Honours committees are made up of senior civil servants (‘official members’) and people who are independent of government (‘independent members’). All honours committees have a majority of members who are independent.”
Looking at it, it is clearly the establishment awarding honours to themselves.
The British Gazette therefore puts forward the following suggestion: That the awards of “honours” being those orders of chivalry apart from the Order of the Garter, Order of the Thistle and Royal Victorian Order and the Royal Victorian Chain (these are the prerogative of the Queen) and the Order of the British Empire should be made on the recommendation of a new honours committee made up ex-offcio of the Lord Lieutenants of the United Kingdom. These would be the Order of the Bath, the Michael and George, the Companions of Honour and the Orders of Merit but also the awarding of knighthoods as Knight Bachelors – not in and of itself an order of chivalry.
This would have the advantage of removing the system from the politicians and the imbalanced opinions of the general public. Herewith a list of these figures: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_the_Lord_Lieutenants_of_the_United_Kingdom
Now to the largest (in terms of number) order: The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. As those on the left of British politics loose no opportunity to point out, this order established by King George V in 1917 when the British Empire actually existed, now appears to be an anachronism.
It is the opinion of the British Gazette that this measure of unreality should be taken advantage of and embraced for it undoubtedly the case that large numbers of the general public approve of such as Sir Bradley Wiggins.
At this point, Dear Reader you will undoubtedly point out that Sir Bradley, along with most other knights was made a Knight Bachelor and not KBE, which is a higher grade of knighthood. You are of course correct and this should be another anomaly that should be altered.
Currently sporting stars who are Knight Bachelors rank below those such as Dame Kelly Holmes who are DBE. This can easily be corrected by the Queen setting Knight Bachelors equal in the Order of Precedence to KBE/DBE.
This still leaves us with the questions about the Order of the British Empire and the general public’s assessment as to who should get what gongs at what grade.
Therefore the suggestion is this: there should be not one but TWO Honours Councils set up. One should be the Permanent Honours Council and the other should be the Elected Honours Council. The Permanent Honours Council would be made up as suggested, Lords Lieutenant ex-offcio and the Elected Honours Council be directly elected by the public. It would also be an excellent idea to have both the Lords Lieutenant and the directly elected holders representing the historic counties in the United Kingdom and not the artificial ones created by Edward Heath.
Were these reforms undertaken there would have to be reforms to two orders of chivalry, being the Order of the Bath and the Order of the British Empire. Currently, both orders have two divisions: civil and military. If the public are to be indirectly involved with selecting who will and who will not be awarded British Empire the military division will have to be closed and the Order of Bath enlarged to five classes. Currently the Bath comprises three classes, 1st Class (GCB), 2nd Class (KCB/DCB) and 3rd Class (CB). There would have to be a 4th Class (Officer of the Bath – OB) and 5th Class (Member of the Bath – MB).
The advantage of these reforms is that they would help straddle the two stools and enable proper recognition of public and other figures by the Crown whilst at the same time allowing “the Public” a say in who gets a gong. The anachronistic British Empire would rapidly become identified with “the peoples’ choices.”
Clearly GBEs and KBEs/DBEs would become over a reasonably short period of time like the dukedoms handed out by the now defunct Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. It would however preserve then integrity of the remaining orders.