The honours system is broken: It's time for it to retire

Keir Starmer: Arise Sir Bathalot
Keir Starmer: Arise Sir Bathalot
Adam Bienkov By

There are many honourable people on this year's honours list. Few could begrudge people like the parents of Jimmy Mizen, the recognition they have received for their good work.

Nor could anyone complain about the day out at Buckingham Palace given to the many less well known, but equally worthy people on the list.

Much attention has also been given this year to the the larger than usual number of women on the list. But having 51% of honours going to women like prominent Conservative business woman Karren Brady means nothing when over 90% of FTSE directorships still go to men.

But the honours system is not really about furthering the cause of women or volunteers. The honours system is a hundreds of years old device by which the British establishment continues to support and extend itself.


This basic truth is something accepted by everybody from the Socialist Worker's Party to the Daily Mail, but the solution is usually misdiagnosed. Every year the list is published and every year journalists go through it picking out donors to the three main political parties as a sign of apparent corruption in the system.

But this isn't really about money. Donors are rewarded yes, but the bulk of the honours go to people who have supported the establishment in ways money simply cannot buy.

The titles of the different honours give the game away. Many are so archaic, that even the people receiving them can have no real idea what they mean. For instance, former director of public prosecutions and Labour supporter Keir Starmer is today awarded the Order of the Bath, whatever that is.

Until now Keir had probably assumed this was just something he gave his two children at night, but apparently it means we now have to call him Sir.

Here at Politics.co.uk we have a policy of never using these titles, not out of any great egalitarian principle, but simply because it is so easy to get them wrong. However, I shall make an honourable exception for Mr Starmer who shall from here on in be known as Sir Bathalot.

Other titles on the list include the Royal Victorian Order, the Order of the Companions Honour and the Order of the Thistle, which sounds particularly painful. Whether or not any of these titles are better or worse than the one bestowed on Sir Bathalot I'm not quite sure, nor do I intend to find out.

But the real purpose of these titles is not to rank people in order of worthiness. Some of the greatest honours are rewarded to some of the least honourable people, while some of the most worthy people receive some of the most obscure honours.

But this isn't really about the few firefighters and nurses at the bottom. Their inclusion on the list is necessary, to hide the real purpose of the list. Their true honour is highlighted so that a little of it can rub off on those less honourable people at the top.

The real purpose of the list is to tie some of the most powerful and influential people in the country into a cosy little club, the membership of which is decided from within.

It is not an official club of course. There is no clubhouse or subsidised bar and the rules are all unwritten. But the rules do not need to be written in order to be understood.

One of the most obvious rules is that members should not criticise the monarch and indeed how could they after accepting such a pleasant honour from her?

But by far the most important rule is that members should do absolutely nothing to alter the fundamental status quo in the British establishment. The names on today's list suggest that rule will be obediently followed.

Britain has come a very long way since the days of the feudal system and the British empire, but it will never be truly equal as long as this dishonourable honours system continues. It's time for it to retire.

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