Late last night the news broke about the New Year’s honours list. A few standouts, like knighthoods for Michael Palin, ex rugby union player Bill Beaumont and cricketer Alastair Cook, as well as for MPs John Redwood, Gary Streeter and Alan Campbell. We will all have our views on whether any or all of them deserved their awards, but one thing is for sure: they were all privately educated or grammar schooled. In Britain today, class still matters far more than it should.
Would Cook, for example, have become the world record run-maker in Test cricket had he come from a sink estate and attended the local state school? It’s hardly his fault – he did not choose to be born wealthy – but let’s be honest, the odds are he wouldn’t even have played cricket never mind excelled so much if he had come from a poor background. The odds of him gaining a significant honour were therefore much higher because of the social class he belonged to. Who knows if Palin would have become the national treasure he is today but for his privileged education, which culminated by attending Oxford University? And were Beaumont’s life chances harmed by going to a private school? However, given the shambles of our honours system, one can make a case for all three of them. The politicians, I think not.
Again, they’re private school and grammar school boys. And certainly in the case of Redwood, staggeringly wealthy. Worse still, they’ve been given knighthoods for doing their jobs. What’s that all about?
In my life, I have come across countless people who have carried out vital work. Carers, NHS staff, those in the community who just want to do stuff to help people. Firefighters, police officers, lifeboat volunteers. They occasionally get minor gongs such as a British Empire Medal (BEM) but are usually ignored or forgotten about.
I can’t get this out of my head. I don’t dislike the idea of having a system whereby people are rewarded for valiant public service or perhaps innovation. However, the one we have rewards the upper and middle classes. The lower orders get their gongs yet they are lower value gongs.
I wish they’d start again. The current system is failing too many people and it is rewarding people for doing nothing more than the jobs for which they are (well) paid for.