Resignation. An act worthy of an honour?
It’s emerged that as part of the feather-bedding and seduction that has been entered into on our behalf to persuade ministers to lose their jobs in David Cameron’s reshuffle, knighthoods have been brought into play. It is exactly a week since the commons public administration select committee complained that too many civil servants, MPs and celebrities are getting honours for simply doing their jobs.
Number ten’s response? Start dishing out knighthoods to men who aren’t any longer doing the jobs they were doing. Mr Cameron himself is signed up to the view that an honour should be for ‘exceptional; service beyond the call of duty’. So what exceptional service has Gerald Howarth MP, Edward Garnier MP, and James Paice MP, rendered? It seems their exceptional act has been to resign their ministerial jobs in return for a knighthood.
And that’s not all. Lord Ashcroft, the controversial former Tory treasurer and one-time representative of Belize to the United Nations, has been made a member of the Privy Council – that’s perceived to be an honour. Two Liberal Democrat junior ministers – Paul Burstow MP and Andrew Stunnell MP are also to be made members of the Privy Council. Again, we are not told what ‘exceptional service’ any of these new Privy Councillors have rendered.
It is no disrespect to any of these people, some of whom I have met, to ask whether this is an abuse of the honours system. A decade ago, I made a Channel 4 documentary called ‘Secrets of the Honours System’. We reported a situation bordering on farce, shrouded in opacity, and vulnerable to political manipulation. Plus ça change.
In many ways the greatest mystery is why anyone should want these name changing devices. It is hard to think of anyone in public life whose reputation has been enhanced by one of these honours.
As we reported all those years ago, there is a genuine desire amongst the populace for an honours system. We questioned whether ‘name changing’ honours, or indeed honours with the words ‘British Empire’ were relevant in the 21st Century.
As the nation moves towards honouring the epic achievements of GB Olympians and Paralympians, it is sad to report that they will have to be given the same honours for their exceptional service as those awarded to people who may simply have got them, for resigning.
You can follow Jon Snow on Twitter @jonsnowC4