Why We Should Care about the New Year’s Honours List
As is the tradition, this New Year the media is taking great interest in the Honours list, and the controversy (they helped to create) surrounding it. Articles abound over the winners that didn’t deserve it, and those who missed out that did.
Which, of course, supposes there’s honour in these Honours. For anyone wanting a progressive society we need to acknowledge the antiquated nature of receiving commendation from hereditary royalty, as well as the dubious actions that have either been ignored or even contributed to the inclusion of many past winners.
Of course there are opinion pieces that annually advocate we do away with them, but they never make the front page. They’re used in the same way as any other anti-monarchist piece, featured as ‘proof’ of balance without ever threatening to look like the official line of the publication. They’re also a useful way of getting us to talk about the ‘right’ things, dictating the topics of conversation, strengthening the frame of the Overton Window.
They’re used, too, to pull celebrities into the fold, acting as unwitting advertisements for the establishment status quo as they pose with their medals. Personally I would love the opportunity to turn down such an honour, in order to make a statement (but to date I’ve done little to warrant honouring, and anything significant I’m ever likely to achieve would be detrimental to the system doing the honouring, so that’s unlikely to occur). But rather than judging people, perhaps famous for acting or throwing a ball around, for falling in line with what are currently mainstream political opinions, I favour increasing respect for the few who turn it down: from Ken Loach to Stephen Hawking.
This year the left is, rightly, directing most of its vitriol towards the knighthood of Iain Duncan Smith. His reforms as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions have been proven to have caused so much unnecessary suffering, implemented at times with glee and always with so little self-awareness, and have failed spectacularly even on their own terms, costing the government a fortune.
Yet he joins a list of names that include the likes of Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris, foreign leaders from Benito Mussolini to Robert Mugabe, as well as a whole host of bankers involved in the financial crash, so we have to remember what this honour actually represents.
John Bercow seems to be the one that many people are upset at seeing shunned, as he has become something of a figurehead among remain supporters — a man of principle, punished by his own party for his stance on Brexit. The fact he’s a Tory is even seen as a positive by some on the left, proof that the Conservatives have become immoral even by their own standards. His voting record on privatisation, the environment and foreign intervention is ignored as judging a politician on anything other than their position on the all-consuming issue of Brexit becomes impossible.
But still, it’s here that lies the important shift. Yes, the government knew the inclusion of ‘IDS’ would cause a stink, but such things have been done many times before, safe in the knowledge the media can be relied upon to sweep the issue under the carpet after a headline or two. But the Bercow omission points to something more sinister.
The fact that Bercow is the first Speaker of the House to be overlooked in 230 years isn’t evidence that he’s a good guy taking the fight to the villains of the story. But it is evidence that this government are willing to tear up unspoken rules that have spanned centuries due to petty internal party squabbles.
It’s part of a pattern that shows the Tories, Johnson and his allies will bend rules as far as they can get away with to achieve their aims. With regard to Brexit, Johnson continually pushes the boundaries of what has hitherto been considered acceptable (most famously including lying to the Queen).
The lack of adherence to traditional standards highlights the already glaring flaw of relying on good faith alone to uphold order in a United Kingdom lacking a real, written constitution.
But the pattern extends worldwide. Along with numerous other examples, the likes of Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro continually and blatantly defy long-standing conventions, both internally and internationally.
For a long time those warning of the re-emergence of fascism have been dismissed. But right-wing populists show their willingness to go there whenever the opportunity presents. The minor faux pas of Bercow’s omission from the New Year’s Honours list is just another small example of this.
Yes, the Honours List in its present form needs to be done away with, along with sycophantic deference to monarchy. But the left has far more pressing matters to contend with first.