by Henry Hill
Monday, 8
February 2021

Another bizarre Labour proposal: scrapping the honours system

Keir Starmer has a long way to go if he wants to be head of the 'patriotic party'
by Henry Hill
Captain ‘civically recognised’ Tom Moore doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. Credit: Getty

The week just past has really highlighted just how far Sir Keir Starmer has to go if he wants to bring Labour to the position of being a “patriotic party”.

First, there was the allergic reaction of some of his comrades to the very idea of associating themselves with the Union Flag. Next came the publication of a new party report which proposes scrapping the honours system — including military medals! — and replacing it with a “civic award”.

It’s difficult to imagine a more self-defeating approach to honours than such a full-frontal assault on their aesthetics, when the aesthetics are almost the entire point. A mere “civic award” would not have the same appeal, and thus nor the same usefulness to the country.

The system is a way of recognising and rewarding people who go above and beyond to make a contribution to national life. Opponents of honours tend to latch on to high profile examples of dubious merit, but few who take the time to read through the full list of ordinary people recognised in each list can deny that theirs is an example we should want to encourage.

Honours are a very cost-effective way to do that. There’s no lump sum, no annual retainer. Just a bit of metal, perhaps a sash, a few letters after your name, and an opportunity to take part in a fancy ceremony and meet Her Majesty the Queen, who remains — loathe as some in the Labour Party might be to admit it — hugely popular and a central figure in national life.

It’s the same story with the monarchy. In their report, Labour suggests scrapping its “trappings and add-ons”. But this completely misunderstands the role of the Queen in modern life. As she does not govern, the sovereign serves as a focus for national ritual and symbolism. That’s most of the role.

We also vest in the monarchy a lot of the pomp and ceremony that other countries exhibit through their elected politicians. Would the Left really rather it was Boris Johnson with the horse-drawn carriage and military guard at the opening of Parliament?

And as for the suggestion to scrap gallantry medals for the Armed Forces: that is political ricin.

Starmer is, of course, unlikely to act on the recommendations of this particular report, which was drawn up for Jeremy Corbyn.

But it is nonetheless a window into the soul of his party, and the instinctive antipathy to the traditional and distinctive forms of British institutions should concern us as the Labour leader gears up for a “comprehensive constitutional review”. The predictable outcome of which will almost certainly be calls to move closer to a standardised, international template for what a “modern” country ought to look like.

Labour can do better. There is plenty of political space for a party which is at once visibly at ease with what makes Britain distinct and rigorously focused on improving the material condition of ordinary people. Much less for one which would have stripped Captain Sir Tom Moore of his knighthood. If he doubts it, Starmer should remember his Orwell:

“What can the England of 1940 have in common with the England of 1840? But then, what have you in common with the child of five whose photograph your mother keeps on the mantelpiece? Nothing, except that you happen to be the same person.”
- George Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn

Join the discussion

  • loathe as some in the Labour Party might be to admit it

    “loathe” is a verb meaning “dislike intensely”.
    “loth” is an adjective meaning “reluctant”.

    Please get this stuff straight.

  • You miss the point entirely. 90% (possibly more) of those receiving OBE’s etc are ordinary people who do extraordinary things. Look at the honours list published in the papers.
    The whole thing does need a revamp however.
    No-one should get any honour for just doing their job, or as payment of some kind, whether a civil servant OR a racing driver.

  • A rivising chamber is essential to the parliamentary process, especially when, as now, the Commons is populated with low-quality politicians, from a very narrow range of backgrounds, expertise, and experience, and the Lords is overstuffed with timeservers, has-beens, and cronies. Direct elections are not the way to reform the Lords: they’d simply result in the same old party hacks and known ‘names’.
    Here’s a solution: an upper chamber of say 500, comprising perhaps 100 directly elected representatives of the regions, metropolitan areas, and rural counties; and 400 members, indirectly elected from short lists drawn up by the major professional and interest groups- health, education, defence, finance, industry, the unions, science and technology. Diversity could be generated with a quota arrangement within each group.
    They would form the nucleus of parliamentary committees, ensuring a broad base of knowledge and expertise to the debates and deliberations.
    All members would be elected for say 10 years, be given a reasonable salary and support etc allowance, and be required to give up all outside jobs and positions. It would be a full time job. Business would be done largely electronically, with meetings, seminars etc held around the country.
    This would at a stroke improve the quality of the review and reform of HofC legislation, and give a more informed and strategic direction to major policy ideas.
    In the longer term, the very obviously superior knowledge and expertise of the upper chamber would so expose the HofC’s shortcomings that the time-servers, activists, and professional politicians, who know little apart from what’s needed to get themselves re-elected, that constituencies would demand reform.

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