Having just had another round of royal honours in the New Year list, Getintothis’ Jono Podmore screams “Enough is enough!”
As tradition, the ancient way of empire, decrees, on the December 31, 2016 Her Majesty’s government published the New Year’s honours list.
What honours they are! Among them; Members of the Order of the Companions of Honour, Knights and Dames Commander of the Order of the Bath, Knights Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire and Commanders, Officers and Members of the Order of the British Empire.
The list is 124 pages of names. Proud British names, now recognized and honoured by a moribund empire of yore; a greatness of cruelty and subjugation raising aloft its banner in dominion over lesser mortals. Never an inferior native of distant savages lands yet untouched by the civilising influence of Empire shall become a Knight Bachelor! The royal We honours good wholesome British stock. Upstanding moral guardians of our ancient and venerated nation, men like:
Rolf Harris (Commander of the Order of the British Empire)
Stuart Hall (Officer of the Order of the British Empire)
Sir James Wilson Vincent “Jimmy” Savile (Officer of the Order of the British Empire)
Three of the most repulsive, serial sex-offenders that have ever used celebrity to secure their prey and to cover their tracks had imperial honours lavished upon them. Honours, which secured them into the establishment, thereby enabling their criminal behaviour.
– and then there’s Sir Philip Nigel Ross Green…
But, at least as far as my research can reveal, none of those characters above actually bought their honours. In December 2006, Tony Blair became the first serving prime minister to be questioned by police as part of a criminal investigation, after four people he had nominated for honours were found to have made substantial loans to the Labour party ahead of the 2005 election. That was the tip of the iceberg. The cash for peerages inquiry revealed a culture of corruption in the Honours system, defined in a recent report as a “market”.
Despite all this attendant glory, there are those that have spurned the honours of Her Majesty’s government.
“I turned down the OBE because it’s not a club you want to join when you look at the villains who’ve got it” was director Ken Loach’s response to the offer of an OBE in 1977.
In 2016 Howard Gayle, the first black player to play for Liverpool FC and tireless anti-racism campaigner, said his “ancestors would be turning in their graves after how Empire and Colonialism had enslaved them” if he accepted an imperial honour.
Poet Benjamin Zephaniah: “I get angry when I hear that word “empire”; it reminds me of slavery, it reminds of thousands of years of brutality, it reminds me of how my foremothers were raped and my forefathers brutalised.”
Professor Phil Scraton, whose jaw-dropping endurance in taking on the establishment seeking justice for the families of the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster, also turned down an OBE: “I think it is inappropriate that people’s public service contribution should be acknowledged in this kind of way… I think many states do this but I consider it inappropriate, it is linked directly to a some outdated notion of an Empire.”
J G Ballard in 2003: “There’s all that bowing and scraping and mummery at the palace. It’s the whole climate of deference to the monarch and everything else it represents. They just seem to perpetuate the image of Britain as too much pomp and not enough circumstance. It’s a huge pantomime where tinsel takes the place of substance. A lot of these medals are orders of the British Empire, which is a bit ludicrous. The dreams of empire were only swept away relatively recently, in the 60s. Suddenly, we seem to have a prime minister [Tony Blair] who has delusions of a similar kind. It goes with the whole system of hereditary privilege and rank, which should be swept away. It uses snobbery and social self-consciousness to guarantee the loyalty of large numbers of citizens who should feel their loyalty is to fellow citizens and the nation as a whole. We are a deeply class-divided society.”
Then there’s LS Lowry, David Bowie, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, John Lennon, Aldous Huxley, Robert Graves…
Which side would you play for, Team Bowie or Team Savile?
We wonder where the ukippy little Englanders come from; those horrified at the thought that shifty continentals could somehow be considered our equals. The poor bewildered saps who value the sound of leather on willow and dreams of English whimsy more than a stable economy, more than legal safeguards to their human rights, more than living in peace with their neighbours. That psychosis is part of the impact of colonialism on the colonialists. Those that had to believe, as in the American West, of a manifest destiny for themselves and their race as a moral justification for their disgusting, racist behaviour. The asinine trappings of our establishment such as the honours system serve only to maintain those patterns in the minds of so many British people – enough to drive a wedge between us and our neighbours.
Speaking of whom, Britain isn’t alone as a faded imperial power that maintains an honours system.
Unlike Britain, France a republic, but despite the liberté egalité fraternité of the revolution, it is a republic that fought to maintain slavery in its colonies. The French Legion of Honour was created in 1802 by Napoleon, a man who, according to CLR James, “hated black people”, to replace the Orders of Chivalry of the Ancien Regime, cementing his legacy into the heart of the French establishment and lavishing imperial, colonial honours on international figures such as Barbra Streisand, Clint Eastwood, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lance Armstrong and John Galliano.
Then there is the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, a series of honours created in 1957 under the auspices of Charles de Gaulle for artists and writers, also not necessarily exclusively French, which reached a cultural high point in 2008 by awarding Kylie Minogue with the honour.
“In presenting her with the award, the French Culture minister Christine Albanel described the Australian singer as a princess of pop“, adding: “Everything you touch turns to gold, from your discs to your micro-shorts.”
Unsurprisingly there have been refusals, people who may have thought twice about accepting sweeties from strangers like General Charles de Gaulle, people the calibre of: Pierre and Marie Curie, Maurice Ravel, Claude Monet, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus and Brigitte Bardot.
Their reasons for refusal line up with those who refused British honours. Disgust for imperialism and elitism combined with the strength of character to resist being bought by the establishment. Flattery is as a basic form of manipulation, and thereby control, that any child learns. Socialists such as Sartre or Bloch-Ladurie were troubled that the honours were not rewarding but buying loyalty to an establishment they felt it was their duty to criticise.
So again, who’s team would you play for, Simone de Beauvoir’s or Kylie’s?
How do we tackle this corrupt, imperial system?
Its power resides in its exclusivity – the epitome of elitism. But the British honours system is open to nominations from all of us.
So here’s what we do.
Click here and nominate everyone.
Spend an afternoon writing citations (they can be as short as you like) for everyone you’ve ever shared a pint or a spliff with. They will all be greater human beings than the Saviles and Philip Greens of this world.
In 1979 when Fela Kuti put himself forward as a candidate for president of Nigeria, this was one of his ideas; “Now, there is a lot of violence between the armed forces, the police and the citizens. If I became president now I would immediately pass a law that makes every citizen a policeman or a soldier. Today’s society has so many laws and so many institutions, but Africa needs a different approach before it can develop as a continent.”
So let’s try the same here in Britain. Let’s use the ideas of the colonised to free the minds of the colonialists. Before we can develop as nation and put our dreams of empire back in the 19th century where they belong, maybe we should all become Knights, Dames, Commanders, Officers and Members of the Order of the British Empire. And if the establishment won’t give it to us, let’s just take our honours for ourselves and bestow them on each other:
Arise, Sir Podmore!