The name 'Sir Fred Goodwin' has figured a number of times in Not Dark Yet, so regulars will not be surprised that I derive a modicum of pleasure, today, in referring to him - correctly - as 'Mr Goodwin'.
The Cabinet Office has stated that his knighthood has been annulled because Mr Goodwin had brought the honours system "into disrepute". The honours system not having been brought into disrepute until now, of course.
Defenders of Mr Goodwin queued up to tell Today programme listeners that this was politicising honours. The system not having been a political tool in any sense until now, of course.
And constitutionalists such as my old college chum, the Right Honourable Peter Riddell - can you believe he once accused me of being 'glib' in a debate about something back in 1968? - criticised the process of annulment as 'opaque'. The procedure for appointing knights in the first instance being completely transparent, of course.
What pissed me off about the award to Goodwin and others like him is that it diminishes the honours awarded to lesser (by which I mean less rich and less willing to donate huge amounts to political parties) recipients. More than half the honours awarded on any given New Year’s Day or Queen’s Birthday go with the job. It’s a way that top people reward each other: so a senior civil servant will receive their gong with the inevitability of a banker receiving a bonus. More than half the remainder are political: peerages for voting the right way the right number of times rather than displaying any competence in office. Lord Lamont, anyone?
If there is a role for the honours system, it is to acknowledge the contribution to the community by those who don’t earn millions, who don’t destroy economies through ego-driven greed, who haven’t merely sat a Whitehall desk shuffling paper since leaving Oxford.
It should be for those who work long hours in our hospitals, who give up their evenings to help disadvantaged kids, who raise money to replace funds withdrawn by the government, who use their free time for the good of the community. These are the ‘other buggers’ on whose ‘efforts’ OBEs are distributed to the undeserving.
We were in the presence of several of these good people, the other buggers, at the Mayor’s Civic Dinner in Leamington last week. There was a great deal of mayoral bling on display, some of it worn by our friends Alan Wilkinson and Jo Crozier, the current Mayor and Mayoress of our town, and some by their equivalents from neighbouring boroughs. On our table, the Mayor of Shipston-upon-Stour was sparkling with his chain of office and it was a pleasant surprise to have my stereotype of Shipston confounded by his confession that he was an ex-member of the Socialist Workers’ Party. (He was probably equally surprised to find that he was sitting adjacent to a former member of the Workers’ Revolutionary Party and opposite a former member of the Communist Party.)
The dinner was being held to support Alan’s adopted charities, which were Basic Needs (for mentally ill people in Asia and Africa), Refuge (for women and children subjected to domestic violence) and Epilepsy Research UK. It was humbling to hear representatives from each explain the continuing need for their work. Many – perhaps a majority – of those present were local activists and members of voluntary associations, who remain committed to the betterment of the lives of the poorest members of our wealthy community, so they were preaching to the converted in this respect. But there were others, such as myself, whose presence was justified solely on the grounds that we were prepared to pay for our dinner and buy a fistful of raffle tickets.
Every day, throughout the country, the extraordinary work of ordinary people is going un-remarked, un-acknowledged and un-rewarded. Far from feeling good about myself for my paltry financial contribution, I actually feel embarrassed at my lack of involvement.
But I did win a gorgeous teddy bear for my grandson in the raffle.
Today’s listening: Karen Dalton from 1970 – thanks to Parn for the recommendation – and, to get me in the mood for the Jazzfest at Wilde’s on Sunday afternoon, some Miles and Coltrane. (Jazz from 4pm to 7pm. Free admission.)