Well it’s 2014 – and a Happy New Year to all.
The turn of the year marks a time to look forward as well as back. To reflect on the good and the bad as well as to ponder on what might be to come.
And in the UK it also brings the annual ritual of the Honours List. This Ruritanian remnant from the days of empire involves the monarch rewarding those who have pleased the establishment with a collection of absurd medieval titles. And to add a bit of good PR, the little people are also involved, with some pretty baubles being thrown to those who have done good works.
This medieval pageantry of lords and ladies, dames and knights, titles and medals, belongs in a past long gone rather than in a nation that likes to think of itself as modern and forward thinking.
At the top of the honours tree are the many civil servants and senior MPs for whom an honour is simply an expected fringe benefit. They are not rewarded for excellence or even competence, but simply because they have held a certain position for the requisite period of time. Then there are those who serve the so called Royal Family: the doctor who delivered the latest addition to the Civil List, the Queen’s cabinet maker and her Swan Marker are all included. Yes, there really is someone whose job is to mark swans. He even has a uniform: a bright scarlet blazer, with brass, crested buttons and sparkling white trousers, with a swan feather in his white cap, if you’re remotely interested.
Then there are are those from the worlds of television, film and theatre who receive awards, generally for having long careers. The business people, many of whom (purely by coincidence I’m sure) have also donated money to the Tory Party. The sports stars who have excelled. The academics with worthy titles. A DJ as a bit of a sop to yoof culture. And then the ordinary people: the campaigners and fund raisers.
It is instructive to have a look at some of the titles involved in this farcical costume drama. At the top are the Members of the Order of the Companions of Honour – a royal club limited to 65 members who have excelled in politics or the arts. There are no real benefits to membership other than the letters CH after your name and a medal.
Further down come the Knights Commander of the Order of the Bath. Founded in 1725, investiture into this order used to involve an actual bath for purification, although I don’t think this is still carried out. The Order Of Bath is commanded by the sovereign and ruled by its Great Master and Principal Knight – a position currently held by her eldest son. For all the talk of chivalry and nobility, the odd mistake has been made here, and those who have been thrown out of the order include Robert Mugabe and, more recently, Vicky Price, the wife of former Cabinet Minister Chris Huhne, after she was convicted of taking speeding points for him.
And at the bottom are the Medallists of the Order of the British Empire, the BEM. Although recipients of the medal are not formally part of the Order of the British Empire they are closely associated with this piece of medieval nonsense that commemorates the days of yore when Britannia ruled the waves, or something.
The press has made great play about the majority of this year’s honours going to women. 51% apparently, a suspiciously engineered figure perhaps? But does the awarding of damehoods to actresses Angela Lansbury and Penelope Keith do much to advance equality? Does a CBE for The Apprentice’s Karren Brady, who is apparently being wooed as a future Tory MP, mean much to the women of Britain?
The entire notion of a hereditary monarch dispensing titles and medals to her subjects is surely one that is out of place in the year 2014. It’s time this whole outdated costume drama was consigned to the dustbin of history.
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