Thursday, 31 December 2015

New Year Honours

So here we go again - the annual circus that is the New Year Honours list, with the usual list of nominal rewards given to 'the great and the good' for services rendered to something or other. And, as usual, there's controversy about the Westminster bubble patting itself on the back in various ways, handing out the gongs to it's own people with a hearty 'haven't they worked so very hard at their public service'. And rightly so, I reckon.

I'm not going to launch into some tirade against individual honours here - there's plenty of people doing that already, and I'm not going to speculate over how justified each of these specific complaints is. Suffice to say that I, like many, still feel that the system is geared towards giving honours to people essentially for doing the job they are paid to do on the basis that those who decide the award distribution happen to be the same people who see the work they do first (or at least second) hand. And that is really the point, for me - not that it is always necessarily deliberately incestuous (or 'corrupt'), but simply that assumptions of 'worthiness' in this context seem all too often to be made on the basis of personal proximity and knowledge in a way that should have been deal with years ago.

We've been told, of course, that the days of 'automatic honours' are over. That's not the point, though - people seem to still be getting them for nothing more than doing their paid job quite well. This isn't a party political issue - it's a general problem that seems to apply, at least to some extent, right across the political spectrum and the political 'class'. The idea that a civil servant who happens to be both a senior and a reasonably good civil servant should get some kind of honour for it because 'public service' seems as ludicrous to me as the idea that an MP, or ex-MP, should get something special just because they were supposedly a good, hard-working MP and/or minister even though they haven't really done anything outside the MP-ing that they were being paid to do. Special honours like this shouldn't ever work like that.

Now that's not to suggest that MPs and civil servants from Westminster should never get such awards, of course - if an MP rows single-handed across the Atlantic to raise money for charity, or a civil servant spends their off time over decades helping youngsters in deprived areas by running youth clubs, they should get the recognition they deserve, just like anyone else. That's the point, though, recognition should be for actions above and beyond the day job, even if that day job is considered 'public service'. Indeed, the same should apply to teachers (and I'm sure it more often does!) - retiring from teaching after a lifetime of 'service' doesn't automatically add their name to the honours list, and nor should it. What should add a teacher's name is something 'a bit special', above and beyond being a good teacher and doing what a good teacher is paid to do. I think that the ones who deserve special awards from society are the ones who do those things above and beyond just fulfilling the role they are paid to fulfil - those who give extra time to help their pupils in extra ways - that truth should hold true for everyone across the board.

I do think these kind of awards should exist, so that 'the people' in the form of 'the state' can reward individuals in some way for making that extra-special effort to do things for others or for the wider good of society (or particular aspects thereof). The current system of awards quite obviously needs a bit of attention, though - we really don't need to be issuing medals in the name of the 'Empire' any more! I'm not going to go along any kid of 'republican' nonsense about it being all about 'bowing to a monarch' or anything - republics have similar systems of public 'honours', and the royal connection is really nothing much more than a convenient customary ceremonial one. I don't think that's an issue worth making a fuss about, particularly because doing so detracts from the main point about making sure that we are only issuing such recognition to those who actually deserve it.

We have to get away from the idea that these awards should be decided by the Westminster political elite according to their own internal standards, even if they are doing so partly according to suggestions that they are receiving from others. The reality is that it is still our senior politicians, however well meaning, giving things to 'their own', and that is surely wrong. We need to overhaul the system, in my opinion, so that it is made absolutely clear that nobody should get any such special recognition for just doing their paid job really well. Nobody. That applies equally to celebrities and sports people, though I accept there is some argument that in the latter case it is recognition for their lifelong dedication to achieving a goal that sometimes sees them putting in many, many hours of unpaid training 'work' from childhood onwards. It should be about someone having done something really 'special' that contributes to the wider world in some way, not just about someone being good at whatever it is their are supposed to be good at because they are paid to do it.

Currently, like many others, I feel that it is still not the case, particularly when it comes to Westminster assuming itself to be a 'special place' where their kind of 'public service' puts them in some kind of different moral bracket to other people, and puts them in a position where their job itself makes them worthy of being given a special honour by 'the people' (when in fact the honour is given to them by each other, of course). Public service should certainly be a primary consideration for everyone in politics and the associated mechanisms, but in itself it doesn't make those people worthy of special extra rewards. It may be a 'public service' job, but it is still a job for which people are paid. In fact they are often very well paid compared with the average wage, even if sometimes they are not quite as well paid as some comparable workers in the private sectors - they often do get other relative 'benefits' in their 'terms and considerations'. To an extent they should be considering 'public service' itself as a kind of reward in terms of being able to help people and make the world a better place (as they see fit) - personally I'd be slightly concerned at any 'public servant' who doesn't consider that to be the case.

The entire system of honours as it stands could be said, with some justification, to be somewhat anachronistic in the modern world. That certainly doesn't make the idea of special public recognition for doing special things to be a bad one, even if some of the inconsistencies in it need to be ironed out. It does, however, need to really be 'for doing special things', and not just 'for doing things that someone was really supposed to be doing anyway as a matter of course', or even 'for doing the things that someone was supposed to be doing really, really well'. It has to be for things 'above and beyond' what could reasonably be considered simple as 'duty', or as 'reasonable duties of the job'. All 'politicians' should be doing things 'for politics'. All 'public servants' should be doing things 'for public service'. To put it bluntly, that's what they are paid for. If they are going to get special recognition via the honours system, they need to have been doing, or to have done, something really special that goes above and beyond that normal 'duty'.

Happy New Year!

1 comment:

  1. Cen

    I would scrap the whole thing, it is so abused now and pointless. I can't stand that the country still calls someone Lord, it's a nonsense. I am all for recognizing achievement, that is a good thing and something as a country we should do. My idea would be to have one people's medal, having various sections for sport, the arts, community etc but also that the people decide who gets it. Have a panel put forward a list of nominees and have a number of ordinary people across the country voting on who gets it. Even just have ordinary people nominate under the various sections and who is at the top are the ones who get them taking out obvious silly things like Homer Simpson.

    Just an idea.