Last night on Radio Five Live Andrew Bacon show, Aki Nawaz was a guest, along with some pro-royalist toff whose name I refuse to remember, talking about the Honours System in the UK – Knights, Barons, Orders of the British Empire (OBE) and MBE etc. Aki tried to argue for a more creative alternative, but hardly got his point in before Bacon was shamelessly begging to be gonged (we would oblige if we had a big enough hammer mate). All this was in anticipation of a report out today on reforming the Honours System.
Reform. Rubbish – get rid of it.
The first reason to abolish these honours is that its a leftover outdated plug for Empire (yaay Benjamin Z) – if we first of all accept that there is something to the idea of Nation (and I am not sure we can) we should be able to recognise that the idea of honours is bound up with an outdated aristocratic system, which cannot be reformed. It must be abolished, not tinkered with to be made to look human.
A first step to fixing the mess, is to recognise that we need a Republic – where a republic is a state in which “the supreme power resides in the body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by representatives chosen directly by them”. This choice should be neither by a paid lackey like the PM, nor by the Queen who seems to think handing out baubles [trinkets] is her most important duty. Pah, it is a hold over from the aristocracy and its got to go – replace it with a public vote along the lines of X-Factor!. While we might want to ensure that democracy can really be democratic – as there is no guarantee of that via phone votes as yet (thanks Ant and Dec), at least getting rid of the monarchy would be a start. Keeping them on just for tourism, and because the queen can gift out knighthoods to rich donors to the dominant parties, is no reason to abandon a say in how we live.
The second issue is about why some people are ‘rewarded’ for services and some are not. There are a great great many people that do selfless work no doubt – but we are all worthy. To single out some as more worthwhile than others is to mock the contribution of us all. Those that do good works – I guess there are some/many who do so selflessly without any conscious thought of gain, but I am sceptical as there is no such thing as a gift (pace Derrida) – surely do not do good works for the reward, for the honour. No, the honour system is sort of like a reality TV show, where honours are handed out to entertainers, where the path of fame glory and celebrity status is the marker of true worth. The Honours Show is a circus and should be treated in a fitting manner, and thus televised (on ITV4).
And thirdly, even if the system were not chucked out right now, there is no-one who really doubts that the honours system is through and through corrupt, it does not even do what it used to say it did. You can buy your honour if you donate enough – and no-one ever thinks the investigations into corruption are going to expose the dirty little secrets that lie underneath. And this is not just about money: Bill Burroughs already skewered it as a rich-list parasite thriving on a manufactured slave mentality:
‘I would love to see… in England “they must” get rid of the idea of this bloody Queen. That bitch. Sitting there soaking up the energy of forty million people. People say “The Queen isn’t important. She’s just a figurehead.” A Figurehead of subservience. A figurehead of kissing her ass. Worthless wench. She should be sweeping floors’ (Burroughs in 1968 in Lotringer 2001: 102).
OK, maybe you will think that’s a mite harsh on a grandma trapped in corgi land – but the infection has to be removed – get a flea collar, call the exterminator, douse the whole thing in bug powder and ship em out to a flat in Blackpool.
But finally and seriously, what really disturbs me most is that the State gives out awards to people in the midst of a global war. Most of us are ignoring this war and its impact on those bombed abroad, and those who suffer here (all our lives are distorted by this war – civil liberties restricted, attacks on muslims, insecurity and fear on the tube/airports/high street, detentions etc). The awards game is an obscene morale boosterism that flies in the face of complicity with death. To give out awards is a way of saying everything is fine. But everything is not fine. It is not ok. It is not OK at all.
Aki managed to get one quip in sideways: “do you think they might give a knighthood to John Lydon?”. God Saves.