You scratch my back, I’ll give you a title: The honours system at work

You scratch my back, I’ll give you a title: The honours system at work
The National, by Kevin McKenna


Never having been nominated to receive anything more outstanding than a severe dose of corporal punishment at school, I can only guess at how proud the recipient of a Knighthood or an Order of the British Empire must feel. I asked Sir Tom Devine what he felt was best about receiving his gong last year. He said that it pleased the right people and it upset the right people. I understood from this that his knighthood brought pride to his family and those who had perhaps played some part in helping him become Scotland’s foremost historian and that it might also, pleasingly have antagonised some in the academic community who refused to speak after he had pledged his support for Scottish independence in 2014.


As a supporter of Scottish independence myself and one who loathes the way in which the UK establishment exerts a stranglehold in ordering the affairs of the UK I ought to be upset at our honours system. It allows Westminster to promise something a little less tainted than money to those people whom it deems to be of value in maintaining the status quo. At this level therefore, it is nothing more than a bribe. “If you give me some of your money or your time or your expertise in helping me to retain power then I’ll give you something in return that money simply can’t buy.” These are the ones which the Queen ought to be handing out sealed in a brown envelope.


But by also conferring a few MBEs to lollipop ladies and grand old theatrical dames the system is given a patina of respectability and sentimentality that ensures enough of us are persuaded to look the other way when the bribes are going round again. Yet when I observe the obvious sense of pride shared by communities which have been challenged by poverty and inequality when one of their own has an honour bestowed then I rebuke myself at my easy sense of moral superiority. “Who am I really to revile all this…?”


I suppose also that it’s these people who have served their communities for most of their adult lives whom I feel for when Prime Ministers’ resignation honours lists are announced. What do they think when they see Nigel Trumpington-Daftey, reader of bedtime stories to the Prime Minister’s children, receiving a knighthood? Or when Lucinda Awfulton-Smythe gets an OBE for taking up Samantha Cameron’s hem in a very nice accent?


For a normal person who has gained success in life with no privileges or advantages an honour may be gained by three decades or so of excellence and good character.


Among David Cameron’s country set it is achieved by uncomplaining attendance at Oxford and impeccable parents.


So, you can see why some people are getting upset at David Cameron’s resignation honours list.


But what do people expect when these lists are unveiled? How did they think reactionary Tories wielded influence and power in the UK?
Some of the UK’s biggest crooks, swindlers and mountebanks are among those whose efforts have been recognised by the state. The system is designed to maintain and replenish the repositories where power and influence reside in this country. And it’s also cutely crafted to ensure that enough of us still think that power and influence reside in the ballot box.


Those among us who genuinely believe we live in a democratic society need only inspect a little more closely the identity of many of those who receive honours in this country. Exercising your vote in a free election may be considered a privilege in a world where millions of people are denied such a right.


But being able to spend a few million in purchasing direct access to prime ministers and members of his cabinet ensures that the will of the few in the United Kingdom will always prevail.


Yet it’s not Cameron’s Manolo Blink honours list that ought to be causing consternation. Rather, is it not that on demitting office a few weeks ago Cameron moved his family into a £17m townhouse owned by the chief executive of the UK’s most powerful lobbying firm? Let’s be having a look at that client list again, Cedric…


In a game of fantasy honours lists here are the people I’d nominate for going above and beyond in keeping Britain great.


Jim Murphy, John McTernan and sundry other Scottish Labour leaders: OBEs, MBEs and whatever other trinkets we have lying around. For displaying useful idiocy beyond the realms of imagination in helping to keep the Union together.


Sundry past and present members of The Bishops Conference of Scotland: all MBEs. For achieving in five years what atheists and humanists have been trying to do for centuries by making the Catholic Church a pantomime act.


The Tony Blair Award for pulling up the ladder behind you: The Westminster Parliamentary Labour Party.


The Nellie the Elephant Award for displaying heroic naivete in the field: The Leaders of the Better Together Campaign.


The Subbuteo Award for excellence in ruining great football stadiums: The Scottish Football Association.


The Paul Burrell award for servitude: The senior executive board of BBC Scotland.


The Stephen House award for turning a country into a police state by stealth: Police Scotland.


The Doctor Faustus Award for showing hubris above and beyond duty: Michael Gove.


The Special Overseas Award for stimulating investment in the nuclear shelter industry: Donald Trump


Curiously, and by sheer coincidence, all of the people I have nominated have either been elevated or will receive an elevation before the end of their days. Britain should celebrate the contributions of the few who ensure that it will always be Business as Usual in the UK. God Bless ’em, one and all.