IF THE Queen’s Christmas Day speech is just a public relations exercise for the medieval superstition that monarchs are superior to the rest of us, her new year’s honours are a more hands-on attempt to keep us in the Dark Ages.
Oh dear, you say, that is hardly in keeping with the spirit of Christmas. You have a point, but the concept of monarchy and a secret system of social patronage hardly fit in with the meaning of Christmas either. Yet both have come to symbolise the traditional British Christmas, with a growing Irish interest in all things royal.
If Christmas is meant to be a time of caring for society’s disadvantaged, how have its most advantaged come to shape it in their own interests? Last Tuesday, for example, the queen sat in one of her 775 rooms in Buckingham Palace and told us (under the Good Friday Agreement we are her subjects) about her wonderful family.(Like the 21 other residences, the palace is not subject to the bedroom tax, which cuts housing benefit for those with a spare bedroom.
Sinn Féin pledged it would never come to the north, but it will fully apply here from March 2020.)
While an estimated one million British people use food banks, the head of an extended family of millionaires, all of them unelected and supported by the public purse, was given a prime television slot to explain that she is busy with royal weddings. Britain has progressed little from the time of James I (died 1625) who believed the kings were selected by God. (In overseeing the Ulster Plantation, James was presumably doing God’s will, a view which appears to survive in some parts of the DUP and the Tory party.)
On Monday the queen will reveal those secretly selected for a class-based hierarchy of awards. (These comments offer a critique of the honours system, not a view on individuals who have received or are about to receive an award.) It all began when kings rewarded soldiers with titles for killing loads of people. Titles included the Order of the Garter (don’t ask) and the Order of the Bath, which apparently symbolised the purification of newly created knights, but which was probably an attempt to divert attention from the garter episode. In 1611, James I (yes, him again) introduced, baronetcies to found his
There is nothing inherently wrong with the concept of honours. An Order of Britain award would be fine, if it were based on an open and a transparent system of merit, with one category for all
Plantation troops here -the first example of cash for honours. (You do not know what a baronetcy is? Have you no shame? A baronet is a hereditary title, which allows the holder to be addressed as ‘Sir’. No, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson is not a baronet, he is a Knight Bachelor. Even if I knew what it meant, it would take too long to explain.)
George V reinvented the honours system in 1917, by introducing the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, just as the empire was about to collapse. Today we have titles based on that now defunct British Empire (BE), including commander (CBE), officer (OBE) and member (MBE) in a declining scale of social status, all based on a heady combination of self delusion and historical amnesia. The awards are generally for services to (whatever that means) agriculture, industry, education and the like.
At the bottom of the pile is the British Empire Medal (BEM), known as the “working class gong”, which is awarded for services to subservience or something. The honours system serves three purposes. It reinforces the mystique of the royalty by magically enhancing someone’s social status. It therefore reinforces Britain’s class system with a rich person more likely to get a CBE or higher honour. Finally, by awarding honours to personalities from sport, entertainment and television, the queen becomes popular by association. There is nothing inherently wrong with the concept of honours. An Order of Britain award would be fine, if it were based on an open and a transparent system of merit, with one category for all.
The Irish are not far behind the British in their fascination with royalty. Led by Sinn Féin, there has been a royal revival in Ireland in recent years (a sort of reverse 19th Century Gaelic revival). No, you say, Ireland is not obsessed, just curious about royalty. You would have a point but for the fact that in the preparation for the visit of Prince Charles, to (rebel?) Cork earlier this year, the city Council spent £4,500 on polishing door handles. I am not sure about you, but that sounds like an obsession to me. However, if anyone receives an award for services to handle polishing on Monday, we will know why.
With many thanks to: The Irish News and Patrick Murphy for the original story.