A WHOLLY DISHONOURABLE WAY TO RECOGNISE MERIT

 

 

 

It’s well in the running for the most degraded word in the English language. Honour. Defined as “personal integrity to moral principles.” Are these the qualities springing to mind if you think of “honour” killings of young British Asian women? Is that what you immediately think of when you survey the “honourable” gentlemen who hijacked the Tory party?

And then there is the honours system. The baubles dispensed at New Year, on one of the Queen’s birthdays, the dissolution variety when a PM carelessly mislays an election, or when Her Maj is “graciously pleased” at pretty well any time she pleases.

Most countries have devised some form of recognition for their citizenry, some more defensible than others. But for slavish adherence to class, snobbery, and a long gone imperial past there is nothing to top the British variety.

What is it about otherwise sensible people that they feel able to rejoice at receiving a gong with the word Empire in it? What it is about otherwise sane human beings that they suppose the prefix Lord or Lady suddenly imbues the recipient with superior social status?

What possible argument remains for a bloated second chamber – vastly more numerous than the Commons – containing people whose “public service” was to lose their boss an election, or who gave up their seat for their party’s convenience.

The conceit of the Lords has always been that within its hallowed walls it contains an unrivalled array of wise men and women whose life experience affords a very special ability to analyse the most complex of modern dilemmas. There are indeed some very distinguished minds on the red benches. There are also some very distinguished minds readily available outwith the palace of varieties.

 

Plus, with the regular addition of ex MP’s, union bosses, “captains” of industry, superannuated civil servants, “special” advisors and big party donors, that conceit has long since been diluted. And let’s not even mention the remaining posse of hereditaries who are permitted to vote for a replacement when one of their number falls off their perch.

For over a hundred years there have been plans to abolish the Lords, yet still they sit in their subsidised bars and restaurants secure in the knowledge that they will not be put out of business by those who fancy their own chance of slipping along the gilded corridor. The number of “left wingers” happily donning ermine is not an inspiring sight.

Too many in the Upper House make no pretence of getting involved in the essential business of scrutinising legislation. Some never vote or speak. All remember to put in their expenses for turning up, and a goodly number trot round the globe at our expense as a member of sundry special interest delegations.

But if the rot starts at the top, the lower rungs of awards give little more cause for comfort. For one thing many of them are given automatically to military service personnel, civil servants, and politicians whose principal triumph has been to linger long enough in their respective jobs. (And even here their gong will be carefully calibrated according to rank.)

There are no similar long service medals for those who labour in less glamorous surroundings, but whose contribution to the communities they serve is arguably at least as meritorious. Certainly the gong dispensers in recent years have sought to “democratise” the system by the inclusion of more civilians nominated as a result of good works or devotion to their assorted causes. This is welcome. But they will find themselves featuring well down the list of imperial goodies. You will not stumble across Dame Senga, queen of the lollipop ladies.

 

This is because the various committees sorting out the honours, and the one scrutinising the selection, are a pretty homogenous bunch, most of whose public schools had little need of high viz assistance to cross the road.

The latest batch of awards, as always, contained some names which were frankly an insult to the notion of honour. The most obvious miscarriage of natural justice was the knighthood for Iain Duncan Smith, a man so intellectually challenged that the Tory Party which be very briefly led, could hardly wait to get shot of him.

His scandalous reworking of the welfare system, and his arrogant refusal to listen to those who flagged up the obvious risks, probably ranks as the greatest cause of hardship and misery of any single piece of legislation. That the existing system was too complex and clumsy was fair comment.

But that very complexity argued against someone, whose experience of hardship was a couple of hit and run visits to a run down Scottish housing scheme, being put in charge of seeking humane solutions. His knighthood is a casebook example of being rewarded for serial failure.

The sad part of all of which is that the poor bloody infantry who do get among the lower tier gongs find themselves in such shoddy company.

What to do about recognising real contributions to society and country will be one of the less urgent questions facing an independent Scotland. There has been no shortage of parliamentary committees trying to modernise the current antiquated and rank obsessed system, including the suggestion of replacing the word Empire with Excellence. But that is to tinker around the edges of an edifice which needs to be completely demolished and re-thought.

A Saltire Award ought to mean something other than a few of your mates or peer group dropping a line to a Lord Lieutenant in the hope that the gesture might one day be reciprocal. It will not be an easy task to imbue a scheme with the necessary transparency and lack of insider dealing. The decision makers will need inbuilt diversity to reflect a modern Scotland, and probably a time limited term in their role. In a pre internet age I might have argued for a people’s vote too, but these days that can be so easily manipulated.

For I am not against rewarding genuine merit, public service, or outstanding ability in any field. But to mean anything at all an honours system has, above all, to be honourable.

 

`Published in The National on 30th December.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s well in the running for the most degraded word in the English language. Honour. Defined as “personal integrity to moral principles.” Are these the qualities springing to mind if you think of “honour” killings of young British Asian women? Is that what you immediately think of when you survey the “honourable” gentlemen who hijacked the Tory party?

And then there is the honours system. The baubles dispensed at New Year, on one of the Queen’s birthdays, the dissolution variety when a PM carelessly mislays an election, or when Her Maj is “graciously pleased” at pretty well any time she pleases.

Most countries have devised some form of recognition for their citizenry, some more defensible than others. But for slavish adherence to class, snobbery, and a long gone imperial past there is nothing to top the British variety.

What is it about otherwise sensible people that they feel able to rejoice at receiving a gong with the word Empire in it? What it is about otherwise sane human beings that they suppose the prefix Lord or Lady suddenly imbues the recipient with superior social status?

What possible argument remains for a bloated second chamber – vastly more numerous than the Commons – containing people whose “public service” was to lose their boss an election, or who gave up their seat for their party’s convenience.

The conceit of the Lords has always been that within its hallowed walls it contains an unrivalled array of wise men and women whose life experience affords a very special ability to analyse the most complex of modern dilemmas. There are indeed some very distinguished minds on the red benches. There are also some very distinguished minds readily available outwith the palace of varieties.

 

Plus, with the regular addition of ex MP’s, union bosses, “captains” of industry, superannuated civil servants, “special” advisors and big party donors, that conceit has long since been diluted. And let’s not even mention the remaining posse of hereditaries who are permitted to vote for a replacement when one of their number falls off their perch.

For over a hundred years there have been plans to abolish the Lords, yet still they sit in their subsidised bars and restaurants secure in the knowledge that they will not be put out of business by those who fancy their own chance of slipping along the gilded corridor. The number of “left wingers” happily donning ermine is not an inspiring sight.

Too many in the Upper House make no pretence of getting involved in the essential business of scrutinising legislation. Some never vote or speak. All remember to put in their expenses for turning up, and a goodly number trot round the globe at our expense as a member of sundry special interest delegations.

But if the rot starts at the top, the lower rungs of awards give little more cause for comfort. For one thing many of them are given automatically to military service personnel, civil servants, and politicians whose principal triumph has been to linger long enough in their respective jobs. (And even here their gong will be carefully calibrated according to rank.)

There are no similar long service medals for those who labour in less glamorous surroundings, but whose contribution to the communities they serve is arguably at least as meritorious. Certainly the gong dispensers in recent years have sought to “democratise” the system by the inclusion of more civilians nominated as a result of good works or devotion to their assorted causes. This is welcome. But they will find themselves featuring well down the list of imperial goodies. You will not stumble across Dame Senga, queen of the lollipop ladies.

 

This is because the various committees sorting out the honours, and the one scrutinising the selection, are a pretty homogenous bunch, most of whose public schools had little need of high viz assistance to cross the road.

The latest batch of awards, as always, contained some names which were frankly an insult to the notion of honour. The most obvious miscarriage of natural justice was the knighthood for Iain Duncan Smith, a man so intellectually challenged that the Tory Party which be very briefly led, could hardly wait to get shot of him.

His scandalous reworking of the welfare system, and his arrogant refusal to listen to those who flagged up the obvious risks, probably ranks as the greatest cause of hardship and misery of any single piece of legislation. That the existing system was too complex and clumsy was fair comment.

But that very complexity argued against someone, whose experience of hardship was a couple of hit and run visits to a run down Scottish housing scheme, being put in charge of seeking humane solutions. His knighthood is a casebook example of being rewarded for serial failure.

The sad part of all of which is that the poor bloody infantry who do get among the lower tier gongs find themselves in such shoddy company.

What to do about recognising real contributions to society and country will be one of the less urgent questions facing an independent Scotland. There has been no shortage of parliamentary committees trying to modernise the current antiquated and rank obsessed system, including the suggestion of replacing the word Empire with Excellence. But that is to tinker around the edges of an edifice which needs to be completely demolished and re-thought.

A Saltire Award ought to mean something other than a few of your mates or peer group dropping a line to a Lord Lieutenant in the hope that the gesture might one day be reciprocal. It will not be an easy task to imbue a scheme with the necessary transparency and lack of insider dealing. The decision makers will need inbuilt diversity to reflect a modern Scotland, and probably a time limited term in their role. In a pre internet age I might have argued for a people’s vote too, but these days that can be so easily manipulated.

For I am not against rewarding genuine merit, public service, or outstanding ability in any field. But to mean anything at all an honours system has, above all, to be honourable.

 

`Published in The National on 30th December.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s well in the running for the most degraded word in the English language. Honour. Defined as “personal integrity to moral principles.” Are these the qualities springing to mind if you think of “honour” killings of young British Asian women? Is that what you immediately think of when you survey the “honourable” gentlemen who hijacked the Tory party?

And then there is the honours system. The baubles dispensed at New Year, on one of the Queen’s birthdays, the dissolution variety when a PM carelessly mislays an election, or when Her Maj is “graciously pleased” at pretty well any time she pleases.

Most countries have devised some form of recognition for their citizenry, some more defensible than others. But for slavish adherence to class, snobbery, and a long gone imperial past there is nothing to top the British variety.

What is it about otherwise sensible people that they feel able to rejoice at receiving a gong with the word Empire in it? What it is about otherwise sane human beings that they suppose the prefix Lord or Lady suddenly imbues the recipient with superior social status?

What possible argument remains for a bloated second chamber – vastly more numerous than the Commons – containing people whose “public service” was to lose their boss an election, or who gave up their seat for their party’s convenience.

The conceit of the Lords has always been that within its hallowed walls it contains an unrivalled array of wise men and women whose life experience affords a very special ability to analyse the most complex of modern dilemmas. There are indeed some very distinguished minds on the red benches. There are also some very distinguished minds readily available outwith the palace of varieties.

 

Plus, with the regular addition of ex MP’s, union bosses, “captains” of industry, superannuated civil servants, “special” advisors and big party donors, that conceit has long since been diluted. And let’s not even mention the remaining posse of hereditaries who are permitted to vote for a replacement when one of their number falls off their perch.

For over a hundred years there have been plans to abolish the Lords, yet still they sit in their subsidised bars and restaurants secure in the knowledge that they will not be put out of business by those who fancy their own chance of slipping along the gilded corridor. The number of “left wingers” happily donning ermine is not an inspiring sight.

Too many in the Upper House make no pretence of getting involved in the essential business of scrutinising legislation. Some never vote or speak. All remember to put in their expenses for turning up, and a goodly number trot round the globe at our expense as a member of sundry special interest delegations.

But if the rot starts at the top, the lower rungs of awards give little more cause for comfort. For one thing many of them are given automatically to military service personnel, civil servants, and politicians whose principal triumph has been to linger long enough in their respective jobs. (And even here their gong will be carefully calibrated according to rank.)

There are no similar long service medals for those who labour in less glamorous surroundings, but whose contribution to the communities they serve is arguably at least as meritorious. Certainly the gong dispensers in recent years have sought to “democratise” the system by the inclusion of more civilians nominated as a result of good works or devotion to their assorted causes. This is welcome. But they will find themselves featuring well down the list of imperial goodies. You will not stumble across Dame Senga, queen of the lollipop ladies.

 

This is because the various committees sorting out the honours, and the one scrutinising the selection, are a pretty homogenous bunch, most of whose public schools had little need of high viz assistance to cross the road.

The latest batch of awards, as always, contained some names which were frankly an insult to the notion of honour. The most obvious miscarriage of natural justice was the knighthood for Iain Duncan Smith, a man so intellectually challenged that the Tory Party which be very briefly led, could hardly wait to get shot of him.

His scandalous reworking of the welfare system, and his arrogant refusal to listen to those who flagged up the obvious risks, probably ranks as the greatest cause of hardship and misery of any single piece of legislation. That the existing system was too complex and clumsy was fair comment.

But that very complexity argued against someone, whose experience of hardship was a couple of hit and run visits to a run down Scottish housing scheme, being put in charge of seeking humane solutions. His knighthood is a casebook example of being rewarded for serial failure.

The sad part of all of which is that the poor bloody infantry who do get among the lower tier gongs find themselves in such shoddy company.

What to do about recognising real contributions to society and country will be one of the less urgent questions facing an independent Scotland. There has been no shortage of parliamentary committees trying to modernise the current antiquated and rank obsessed system, including the suggestion of replacing the word Empire with Excellence. But that is to tinker around the edges of an edifice which needs to be completely demolished and re-thought.

A Saltire Award ought to mean something other than a few of your mates or peer group dropping a line to a Lord Lieutenant in the hope that the gesture might one day be reciprocal. It will not be an easy task to imbue a scheme with the necessary transparency and lack of insider dealing. The decision makers will need inbuilt diversity to reflect a modern Scotland, and probably a time limited term in their role. In a pre internet age I might have argued for a people’s vote too, but these days that can be so easily manipulated.

For I am not against rewarding genuine merit, public service, or outstanding ability in any field. But to mean anything at all an honours system has, above all, to be honourable.

 

`Published in The National on 30th December.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s well in the running for the most degraded word in the English language. Honour. Defined as “personal integrity to moral principles.” Are these the qualities springing to mind if you think of “honour” killings of young British Asian women? Is that what you immediately think of when you survey the “honourable” gentlemen who hijacked the Tory party?

And then there is the honours system. The baubles dispensed at New Year, on one of the Queen’s birthdays, the dissolution variety when a PM carelessly mislays an election, or when Her Maj is “graciously pleased” at pretty well any time she pleases.

Most countries have devised some form of recognition for their citizenry, some more defensible than others. But for slavish adherence to class, snobbery, and a long gone imperial past there is nothing to top the British variety.

What is it about otherwise sensible people that they feel able to rejoice at receiving a gong with the word Empire in it? What it is about otherwise sane human beings that they suppose the prefix Lord or Lady suddenly imbues the recipient with superior social status?

What possible argument remains for a bloated second chamber – vastly more numerous than the Commons – containing people whose “public service” was to lose their boss an election, or who gave up their seat for their party’s convenience.

The conceit of the Lords has always been that within its hallowed walls it contains an unrivalled array of wise men and women whose life experience affords a very special ability to analyse the most complex of modern dilemmas. There are indeed some very distinguished minds on the red benches. There are also some very distinguished minds readily available outwith the palace of varieties.

 

Plus, with the regular addition of ex MP’s, union bosses, “captains” of industry, superannuated civil servants, “special” advisors and big party donors, that conceit has long since been diluted. And let’s not even mention the remaining posse of hereditaries who are permitted to vote for a replacement when one of their number falls off their perch.

For over a hundred years there have been plans to abolish the Lords, yet still they sit in their subsidised bars and restaurants secure in the knowledge that they will not be put out of business by those who fancy their own chance of slipping along the gilded corridor. The number of “left wingers” happily donning ermine is not an inspiring sight.

Too many in the Upper House make no pretence of getting involved in the essential business of scrutinising legislation. Some never vote or speak. All remember to put in their expenses for turning up, and a goodly number trot round the globe at our expense as a member of sundry special interest delegations.

But if the rot starts at the top, the lower rungs of awards give little more cause for comfort. For one thing many of them are given automatically to military service personnel, civil servants, and politicians whose principal triumph has been to linger long enough in their respective jobs. (And even here their gong will be carefully calibrated according to rank.)

There are no similar long service medals for those who labour in less glamorous surroundings, but whose contribution to the communities they serve is arguably at least as meritorious. Certainly the gong dispensers in recent years have sought to “democratise” the system by the inclusion of more civilians nominated as a result of good works or devotion to their assorted causes. This is welcome. But they will find themselves featuring well down the list of imperial goodies. You will not stumble across Dame Senga, queen of the lollipop ladies.

 

This is because the various committees sorting out the honours, and the one scrutinising the selection, are a pretty homogenous bunch, most of whose public schools had little need of high viz assistance to cross the road.

The latest batch of awards, as always, contained some names which were frankly an insult to the notion of honour. The most obvious miscarriage of natural justice was the knighthood for Iain Duncan Smith, a man so intellectually challenged that the Tory Party which be very briefly led, could hardly wait to get shot of him.

His scandalous reworking of the welfare system, and his arrogant refusal to listen to those who flagged up the obvious risks, probably ranks as the greatest cause of hardship and misery of any single piece of legislation. That the existing system was too complex and clumsy was fair comment.

But that very complexity argued against someone, whose experience of hardship was a couple of hit and run visits to a run down Scottish housing scheme, being put in charge of seeking humane solutions. His knighthood is a casebook example of being rewarded for serial failure.

The sad part of all of which is that the poor bloody infantry who do get among the lower tier gongs find themselves in such shoddy company.

What to do about recognising real contributions to society and country will be one of the less urgent questions facing an independent Scotland. There has been no shortage of parliamentary committees trying to modernise the current antiquated and rank obsessed system, including the suggestion of replacing the word Empire with Excellence. But that is to tinker around the edges of an edifice which needs to be completely demolished and re-thought.

A Saltire Award ought to mean something other than a few of your mates or peer group dropping a line to a Lord Lieutenant in the hope that the gesture might one day be reciprocal. It will not be an easy task to imbue a scheme with the necessary transparency and lack of insider dealing. The decision makers will need inbuilt diversity to reflect a modern Scotland, and probably a time limited term in their role. In a pre internet age I might have argued for a people’s vote too, but these days that can be so easily manipulated.

For I am not against rewarding genuine merit, public service, or outstanding ability in any field. But to mean anything at all an honours system has, above all, to be honourable.

 

`Published in The National on 30th December.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s well in the running for the most degraded word in the English language. Honour. Defined as “personal integrity to moral principles.” Are these the qualities springing to mind if you think of “honour” killings of young British Asian women? Is that what you immediately think of when you survey the “honourable” gentlemen who hijacked the Tory party?

And then there is the honours system. The baubles dispensed at New Year, on one of the Queen’s birthdays, the dissolution variety when a PM carelessly mislays an election, or when Her Maj is “graciously pleased” at pretty well any time she pleases. Most countries have devised some form of recognition for their citizenry, some more defensible than others. But for slavish adherence to class, snobbery, and a long gone imperial past there is nothing to top the British variety.What is it about otherwise sensible people that they feel able to rejoice at receiving a gong with the word Empire in it? What it is about otherwise sane human beings that they suppose the prefix Lord or Lady suddenly imbues the recipient with superior social status?

What possible argument remains for a bloated second chamber – vastly more numerous than the Commons – containing people whose “public service” was to lose their boss an election, or who gave up their seat for their party’s convenience.The conceit of the Lords has always been that within its hallowed walls it contains an unrivalled array of wise men and women whose life experience affords a very special ability to analyse the most complex of modern dilemmas. There are indeed some very distinguished minds on the red benches. There are also some very distinguished minds readily available outwith the palace of varieties. 

Plus, with the regular addition of ex MP’s, union bosses, “captains” of industry, superannuated civil servants, “special” advisors and big party donors, that conceit has long since been diluted. And let’s not even mention the remaining posse of hereditaries who are permitted to vote for a replacement when one of their number falls off their perch. For over a hundred years there have been plans to abolish the Lords, yet still they sit in their subsidised bars and restaurants secure in the knowledge that they will not be put out of business by those who fancy their own chance of slipping along the gilded corridor. The number of “left wingers” happily donning ermine is not an inspiring sight. Too many in the Upper House make no pretence of getting involved in the essential business of scrutinising legislation. Some never vote or speak. All remember to put in their expenses for turning up, and a goodly number trot round the globe at our expense as a member of sundry special interest delegations.

But if the rot starts at the top, the lower rungs of awards give little more cause for comfort. For one thing many of them are given automatically to military service personnel, civil servants, and politicians whose principal triumph has been to linger long enough in their respective jobs. (And even here their gong will be carefully calibrated according to rank.) There are no similar long service medals for those who labour in less glamorous surroundings, but whose contribution to the communities they serve is arguably at least as meritorious. Certainly the gong dispensers in recent years have sought to “democratise” the system by the inclusion of more civilians nominated as a result of good works or devotion to their assorted causes. This is welcome. But they will find themselves featuring well down the list of imperial goodies. You will not stumble across Dame Senga, queen of the lollipop ladies.

This is because the various committees sorting out the honours, and the one scrutinising the selection, are a pretty homogenous bunch, most of whose public schools had little need of high viz assistance to cross the road. The latest batch of awards, as always, contained some names which were frankly an insult to the notion of honour. The most obvious miscarriage of natural justice was the knighthood for Iain Duncan Smith, a man so intellectually challenged that the Tory Party which be very briefly led, could hardly wait to get shot of him. His scandalous reworking of the welfare system, and his arrogant refusal to listen to those who flagged up the obvious risks, probably ranks as the greatest cause of hardship and misery of any single piece of legislation. That the existing system was too complex and clumsy was fair comment. But that very complexity argued against someone, whose experience of hardship was a couple of hit and run visits to a run down Scottish housing scheme, being put in charge of seeking humane solutions. His knighthood is a casebook example of being rewarded for serial failure. The sad part of all of which is that the poor bloody infantry who do get among the lower tier gongs find themselves in such shoddy company.

What to do about recognising real contributions to society and country will be one of the less urgent questions facing an independent Scotland. There has been no shortage of parliamentary committees trying to modernise the current antiquated and rank obsessed system, including the suggestion of replacing the word Empire with Excellence. But that is to tinker around the edges of an edifice which needs to be completely demolished and re-thought. A Saltire Award ought to mean something other than a few of your mates or peer group dropping a line to a Lord Lieutenant in the hope that the gesture might one day be reciprocal. It will not be an easy task to imbue a scheme with the necessary transparency and lack of insider dealing. The decision makers will need inbuilt diversity to reflect a modern Scotland, and probably a time limited term in their role. In a pre internet age I might have argued for a people’s vote too, but these days that can be so easily manipulated.

For I am not against rewarding genuine merit, public service, or outstanding ability in any field. But to mean anything at all an honours system has, above all, to be honourable.

 

`Published in The National on 30th December.