The former Prime Minister Boris Johnson is reported to have put forward around 100 people for recognition by the Monarch of the Realm – including his father
March 6, 2023 4:33 pm(Updated 4:55 pm)
“The UK honours system rewards people for merit, service or bravery. Honours are given to deserving and high-achieving people from every section of life: from soldiers to community volunteers, performers and leaders of industry.”
This splendid, high-minded sentiment, from the Royal Family’s own website, has repeatedly been traduced down the years, but this morning it stands as a grotesque parody of a practice by which accomplishment in public life is recognised.
In his resignation honours list, the former Prime Minister Boris Johnson is reported to have put forward around 100 people for recognition by the Monarch of the Realm. It’s not the fact this list is considerably more sizeable than that of his predecessors (David Cameron had 62 names, and Theresa May had 60), or that he resigned in disgrace after an inglorious three years in power, that taints his commendations.
It’s that his roll call, according to The Times, includes one Stanley Johnson, a man whose “merit, service or bravery” appears to be limited to the achievement of having sired Boris Johnson.
It’s the other 99 or so people on the list for whom I feel sorry. Among them will be people who truly deserve recognition – charity workers, public servants and titans of industry, for instance. But their own honours will be forever diminished by having to share their moment in the sun with Johnson Senior, a man who has admitted he broke his wife’s nose, who was accused of sexual harassment of a Conservative MP, and whose public pronouncements on population control, immigration and the British public’s lack of intelligence – “most of them don’t even know how to spell Pinocchio,” he once said – are beyond the pale.
I have no idea how his encomium will sound. “For services to…” Well, what exactly?
In one sense, however, this is a cheering turn of events. For those of us who have believed for some time that the conferring of honours in this way is archaic and iniquitous, and has become more a question of bestowing patronage and rewarding benefactors than genuine recognition of selfless achievement, this may be the moment when, finally, the body politic decides enough is enough.
Why should Prime Ministers, irrespective of their length of service, effectively have carte blanche, with no prescribed limit on numbers, in the matter of awarding honours? It defies logic and reason, and has no place in a modern democracy. Even Liz Truss gets the opportunity to reward all those who helped orchestrate her historic 44 days in power.
Almost 20 years ago, a parliamentary committee called for greater transparency in the awarding of honours and the setting up of a body independent of government and the civil service to be responsible for the system. Not only have these recommendations been ignored, successive Conservative Prime Ministers have continued to degrade the process.
David Cameron ennobled his wife’s stylist, while Theresa May rewarded a host of donors and aides. But a knighthood for Stanley Johnson? For a practice that harks back to the days of Empire, this must surely represent a woeful low point.
Boris Johnson’s time in No 10 was characterised by a careless disregard for public opinion, believing he could always talk his way out of a tight spot. And now, from the political netherworld, he returns, contemptuously, to debase a system that was established principally to reward the extraordinary deeds of ordinary citizens.
In what alternative universe could Johnson – who has already given a peerage to his brother – believe that putting his father forward for a knighthood would be a suitable and thoughtful use of the honours system? He must have been able to predict the outcry, and, equally, not give a stuff.
Here we have a man who shows no respect for the proprieties of public life – and a system that is no longer fit for purpose.