Wednesday, October 5

‘Sir Tony Blair’? How Cheap Are Knighthoods In Our Broken Honors System | Simon Jenkins


Sor, Anthony Charles Lynton “call me Tony” Blair must now be called Sir Tony. Besides being “Very Honorable”, he will be the Queen’s Companion, chivalrous and chivalrous. He must wear a royal garter, the highest honor the monarch can bestow, and it is his personal choice. Gasps everywhere. A protest petition has already received almost 700,000 signatures.

On paper, the reason for the league, not a normal knighthood, is that Blair was once prime minister and all former incumbents get one, as they once got counties. James Callaghan did, as did Margaret Thatcher. The difference is that Blair’s honor has been delayed for 15 years. The palace could argue that there are only three vacancies in the 24-member company and that there are four former prime ministers waiting, along with other worthy candidates.

That doesn’t explain the delay in Blair’s case. In light of history, Blair was not a particularly bad prime minister. If you win three general elections, it could even be considered a success. The two wars he led his nation to, in Afghanistan and Iraq, were strongly supported by some at the time. But the charge against him, as the Chilcot report confirms, is that he sadly misled parliament and the public by making his case. Hundreds of British and tens of thousands of foreigners died, and continue to die, as a result of Great Britain’s participation in those wars. A lot of people didn’t think much of Thatcher, who also went to war, but no howls got her league.

Commons spokesman Sir Lindsay Hoyle has suggested that all former prime ministers should be knighted upon leaving office, simply for having done “one of the toughest jobs in the world.” Like Permanent Clerks, Senior Justices, and (most) Common Speakers, they deserve a goodbye pat on the back, and knighthood is cheap. Up to that point, Blair would be entitled to her reward. But, in that case, someone should have said and done.

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As it stands, the delay on Blair looks like a deliberate trial somewhere in Buckingham Palace. Some courtiers muttered, “Should we really, what about Iraq and all that?” Others said, “It’s over, keep going”? As for the numbers, you can hope that, hopefully, the next Gordon Brown refuses, and David Cameron can be thrown into the Lords, where his recent misdeeds will fade into his mire of squalor. In other words, the delay in awarding Blair could be a real comment on his failed work, at which point we should treat it as a closed matter.

More evidence, if necessary, that our entire “honors” system and its associated nomenclature is an outdated mess. Britain has inherited an honors system that, like its Church of England and Parliament itself, is cloaked in outmoded fashions and fancy language that it seems incapable of reforming. Honors are divided between the people who earn them through their work, the people who deserve them, and the people who buy them. The cynicism of the honors acquired by Boris Johnson (and Cameron) has pushed the House of Lords to a new low. I cannot think of any other democracy in which the membership of its parliament is so blatantly for sale.

It is not enough to say that it does not matter much. If it is to serve as the nation’s commentary on the performance of public figures, an honors system must convey meaning, not time.

In a climate of squalor and corruption, the case is overwhelming for a commission to clean up and modernize the hierarchy of national awards. Parliament, politics and Downing Street should have nothing to do with it. We can remove archaic references to empires, saints, baths, leagues, and chivalry. We can stick to orders of merit.

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As for prime ministers, it’s best to keep your reward in heaven, or at least limit yourself to the lucrative lecture circuit and catalog of memoirs. It is there that the nation can best express its appreciation for your work.


www.theguardian.com

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