Is the Honours system fair?

One of the articles in my regular social media feeds this morning was one titled: “May blames Cameron for controversial honours list”. It begins: “Theresa May is to overhaul the honours system after making clear that controversial appointments in the new year’s list had been put forward under David Cameron. The prime minister is to insist that the government gives priority to people proven to have helped the economy or boosted social mobility.” May’s specific gripe it seems is certain people are honoured simply because they occupy a position of power, often well remunerated, irrespective of achievement, and she is right.


To be honest, that was not what I picked up when I saw some of the highlights from this year’s New Year Honour’s list. Much as I admire these, like the next person, but I disagree with awarding knighthoods to Andy Murray and Mo Farrah because of their sporting achievements. Another friend drew attention disapprovingly to awarding Victoria Beckham an award because of her fashion business. In fairness though, there are many who are awarded who I would say deserved their award. Personally, I liked giving a knighthood to Ken Dodd for his work over many years to show business and charity.

Going back to my younger years, I recall there were some who returned their awards out of protest when the Beatles were awarded MBEs. A friend of mine who does sterling work on behalf of asylum seekers returned his award because of what he saw as government hypocrisy toward the very people he was trying to help. I suspect whatever happens from now on, and in my view too many good people get passed over and not so good people get rewarded, the way the awards system is going to be administered is going to be controversial, yet it should try to award the ones most deserving.

I have no problem with giving honour to those who deserve to be honoured, for it seems to be an appropriate gesture, even though I recognize that in a society of twisted values that does not always happen. While I don’t agree with her emphasis, I do think Theresa May has a point. I can think of many in the course of my community activism doing outstanding work and not given the recognition they deserve. One is my friend Ray Davy! Deciding what is fair depends in part on one’s values; my own says the Honours system is in part unfair. Of course, the best award is, at the end of my life’s journey, if and when my Lord says: “well done, good and faithful servant“!


One thought on “Is the Honours system fair?

  1. Sandra Wilkes says:

    I agree John. We both know people in the Southend area who deserve to be honoured for their services to charity or the community – and also in some cases those who have been honoured – and we are not sure why! I believe the system should reward people not for doing the job for which they are paid (in many cases very handsomely) but for voluntary work which makes a substantial and tangible difference in the world – either to people in their local community – or more widely. I do not agree with honouring public servants where the award gets more prestigious with each career promotion. As regards sportspeople and those in the entertainment industry – the precedent was set years ago so it is now difficult to backtrack and not honour those who have equalled or surpassed the achievement of past citizens.

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