So I was scanning the news on MicroScope on the first Monday of the new year and my eye was drawn to the headline which read “UKFast boss recognised in Honours list”. Clicking on the story, I read that Lawrence Jones, head of UKFast, had been given an MBE for his services to the digital economy. As impressive, however, was his commitment of £100,000 to charities such as the Diane Modahl Sports Foundation and setting up an internet cafe in a community centre in South Africa.
In any case, the whole system of honours seems strange in the modern world. The fact the UK persists in dishing out titles that include the words ‘British Empire’ merely highlights how ridiculously archaic they are, even more so when they confer them on people for contributions to “the digital economy” or, in the case of Lynne Kipatrick, for services to “the video games industry”. Right now, the “British Empire” consists of 14 territories outside the British Isles, some of which are uninhabited.
It is also surely an insult to people everywhere to expect them to call another person ‘Sir’ just because the prime minister has asked the Queen to give someone that title because he has written a few good songs, acted in some films and plays or been very successful in financial services, selling arms or computers.
The honours list as it is currently constituted merely preserves and reinforces an unsustainable, unaccountable, undemocratic and inequitable system of patronage and favour that belongs to the days of empire and monarchy and is anachronistic to the modern age.
But as it’s highly unlikely the honours system is going to disappear anytime soon, I wonder if one way to accelerate its demise would be to introduce an anti-honours system to run alongside it. This would recognise fraudsters, swindlers, criminals and villains for their dis-service to the nation. Habitual criminals and ne’er-do-wells would progress up (or down) the ladder from OCBE (ordinary criminal of the British Empire) to HCBE (habitual criminal of the British Empire) to CKBE (Criminal Kingpin of British Empire) and CMBE (Criminal mastermind of the British Empire).
It wouldn’t work, of course, because political parties would discredit the system by seeking to take advantage of it, as they already do with the honours list. For example, the Tories might like to confer a DBE (Danger to the British Empire) or EBE (Enemy of the British Empire) award on any trade union leader who had the temerity to advocate strike action for whatever reason. In turn, the Labour Party could confer a PBE (Profiteer of the British Empire) or FCBE (Fat Cat of the British Empire) on people refusing to pass on price cuts to their customers or bosses who paid themselves huge bonuses while sacking workers and closing down businesses.
Within a few years, I predict the abuses of the anti-honours system would become so glaringly apparent to even the most naive of her majesty’s subjects that it would be scrapped. The hope would be that, in turn, it would lead them to look at the honours system in the same light and do the same, replacing it with something that more accurately reflects a post-colonial, post-Empire age which is not dependent on the grace and favour of political parties and their leaders. We deserve something far better than a system that offers only the “tinsel dreams of empire and renown”.