It’s time to ditch the honours list

After the serious data leak linked with the list, published on the government’s website on Friday and the news that Tory MP, Iain Duncan Smith, is due to receive a knighthood, this antiquated system needs to come to an end, writes Tannice Hemming.

The former Conservative minister, responsible for the introduction of the controversial Universal Credit system, the bedroom tax and ‘fit for work’ tests is due to be knighted in a list originally created under Theresa May’s government.

The move to bestow the MP for Chingford and Woodford Green with the honour has caused uproar and consternation across the country, with NHS Doctor Mona Kamal Ahmed setting up a petition to protest the decision.

Duncan Smith, known by his initials IDS, according to Dr Kamal Ahmed, is responsible for “some of the cruellest, most extreme welfare reforms this country has ever seen”. Universal Credit, designed to roll several welfare payments into one, has been attacked since it was first mooted, with critics correctly predicting it would put the most vulnerable into far worse dire straits than ever before.

Iain Duncan Smith
Image credit: McAndrew, CC BY 3.0, Link

The harsh, punitive sanctions and lengthy waits for payments once you’re on the system have been cited for the rise of food banks – we now have more of them in the UK than branches of McDonalds .

Dr Kamal Ahmed’s petition, on change.org, details how the UK was the very first country to face investigation by the UN for human rights abuses against those who are disabled. The damning result of which was “our government had been guilty of grave and systemic violations of the rights of disabled people”. As a psychiatrist, she is uniquely placed to detail the “suffering and impoverishment” she sees so frequently at Accident and Emergency. Laying blame squarely on the shoulders of IDS and his brutal cuts, she argues the increased financial hardship wreaked havoc on many people’s mental state and has further exacerbated the NHS’ struggle to treat mental illness. The petition, at the time of writing, was rapidly approaching 44,000 signatures. 

Widespread, online condemnation

Twitter was almost immediately on fire with both remonstrations and congratulations, with many suggesting that his knighthood was a foregone conclusion due to his position as former Tory leader, MP for more than 20 years and a member of the Privy Council. Some, despite his reputation as the architect of the swathing welfare cuts, reminded others that he actually resigned from government because of the cuts being made. 

His resignation letter, which came on 18 March 2016, said he was “incredibly proud” of the welfare changes the government had “delivered” over the previous 5 years. However, he said that the “latest changes to benefits to the disabled […] are a compromise too far”. He criticised the fact they were “placed within a Budget that benefits higher earning taxpayers” and said there was “too much emphasis on money saving exercises and not enough awareness from the Treasury, in particular, that the government’s vision of a new welfare-to-work system could not be repeatedly salami-sliced.”

Not everyone was so down on IDS and his knighthood, however. Jeremy Hunt, the former Health Minister (who knows better than most how it is to be hated) tweeted “I have never worked alongside someone more willing to face unpopularity for standing up for his deeply held principles and moral convictions”.

Potential future Labour Leader, Angela Rayner, was disgusted however, saying that the decision “dishonoured the honours”, whilst Jon Stone, the Europe correspondent of the Independent, seemed unsurprised in his Twitter thread, calling the UK honours system “inherently corrupt”. He also alluded to Nicky Morgan’s appointment to the Lords and cited the shocking new OpenDemocracy research revealing new depths of “cronyism”. One in five donors to the Conservative party have been rewarded with knighthoods and peerages, prompting accusations of a new ‘cash for honours’ scandal. Rami Ranger, who has donated more than £1.3M to the Conservatives was just one, made a knight by Theresa May in her resignation honours.

Labour MP, Jon Trickett, reacted to the report by saying “the honours system has become a way for politicians to reward establishment cronies and repay favours”.

But it’s not just cash for honours – the police are currently investigating rumours that Brexit Party candidates were offered similar honours in exchange for for standing down for Tory members in the December 12th election. You can read the full report on the OpenDemocracy website.

Why do we even have honours any more?

Dictionaries reveal the titles Sir and Dame go as far back as 1297. Yet there are now nine different potential honours a person can receive, most of which were established in 1917 to honour those who had contributed to the Great War but could not receive honours for bravery. Some might argue that slashing benefits for the most vulnerable in society was far from brave, making IDS ineligible for any sort of ‘honour’ at all. 

In order to meet the Queen and be knighted, you must swear an allegiance to the monarch, which means you can’t have one unless you’re a citizen of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia or another Commonwealth country.

The system is, by its nature, elitist. Many get honours due to their heritage or because of their job role as a senior public servants. The MBE and other civilian awards were brought in to change this and both Gordon Brown and John Major further revised the honours system after the introduction of the MBE honour. Yet it’s been clear for decades the honours system is an archaic relic of the class system. It’s a way of congratulating people in positions of power, should they toe the party line and do as they’re told – or give enough moolah to the party. Traditional or not, many feel the spirit of the honours list has been besmirched by Iain Duncan Smith’s place on it. Let’s use the knighting sword to lance this Establishment-aggrandising list once and for all, to kill it as dead as the decomposing rat sent to IDS during the election campaign.

Before we hear the words “Arise, Sir Nigel”, at the very least.

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