A decade ago, a fresh faced David Cameron claimed that "Tony Blair's government has tarnished politics and eroded public confidence in our traditional institutions". He went on on to say "We need to restore trust and tackle the public's underlying cynicism”. Cracking job Dave! The former Prime Minister’s resignation honours list shamelessly rewards cronies, donors and fellow Remainers with ‘gongs’ that have been all but bought. In any other democracy it would be called corruption, in Britain we call it tradition.
Does the realm really need more peers, when the unelected upper house is already bursting at the ermine seams with failed politicians? Is there any prestige left in a knighthood when in the past they’ve been handed out to the likes of Philip Green and Fred Goodwin, never mind Jimmy Savile and Cyril Smith? Theresa May saw fit to dispense with the services of Chancellor George Osborne, nevertheless he is made a companion of honour. Imagine how he’d have been rewarded if he had actually succeeded in restoring the British economy to health.
Here we are, sixteen years into the 21st century, and the establishment are still dishing out OBE’s, MBE’s, CBE’s and the rest, despite the fact that the British Empire to which they refer, died a death in the last century. It is not only the manner in which honours are handed out that is discredited, the very structure of the British honours system is woefully outdated. As Liberal Democrat leader put it, "David Cameron’s resignation honours list is so full of cronies it would embarrass a medieval court. “.
There can be no doubt that the British honours system is in dire need of root and branch reform. Crucially, it needs to be taken out of the hands of our politicians altogether. As things stand, it appears as if prime ministers feel obliged to repay their political debts by handing out honours to those who have served them in some way or another. Indeed, it is as if there is an expectation on the part of some donors, that their contributions will be rewarded, presumably with the size of the gong being proportional to the generosity of the donation.
Though he criticised Tony Blair for fostering public cynicism of politicians and politics, David Cameron has fallen into the same trap. Either he is stuck in a bubble, unaware of how his actions appear to ordinary people, or he has no regard for them. I cannot decide which is worse.
Our politicians often talk of the need for reform, to make politics more accountable, more relevant to those it is meant to serve. Yet when push comes to shove, they can’t quite bring themselves to do what is necessary. We have only to look at New Labour’s botched reform of the House of Lords, the ConDem Coalition’s feeble cop out on electoral reform and successive governments wholly inadequate, piecemeal tinkering with the United Kingdom’s constitutional arrangements to see this. There is every chance that any changes to the honours system will be equally half-hearted.