New Year Honours are an insult to democracy….
Even before the inevitable (for some at any rate) New Years Day hangover there is one political spectacle almost guaranteed to make you retrieve that half-digested Christmas Turkey from the pit of your stomach – the publishing of the New Year honours list. I seriously had to double-take when David Cameron used the opportunity to bolster his flagging ‘big society’ wheeze. Nonetheless, it did give government officials time to offer this nugget of useful information:
Officials claimed that although honours are recommended by an independent committee, the list reflected the prime minister’s “strategic agenda”.
So, it is just a fortunate occurance that the ‘independent’ honours committee and the Prime Minister happen to be of the same, hive-mind then? We all know that the honours system is a grotesque system of patronage which every shade of governing party manipulates to either a) reward its supporters or b), as Cameron implied, reward people whose actions promote an impression or agenda that the government want to further. They are an insult to democracy and to meritocracy which is what the House of Lords is, writ much larger.
The honours system is a telling reminder of just how un-democratic the second chamber is in its very conception. The whole edifice is one built for the patronage and empowerment of those whose the establishment’s more sunny countenance falls upon. This is the real reason none of the political parties will usher in a fully elected Lords, they don’t want to lose the privilege afforded them of treating their most loyal supporters to the odd OBE or Knighthood here or there.
The artist currently known as Nick Clegg is currently proposing an 80% elected upper chamber. Arguments about ‘dual-power’ and clashes between an elected Commons and Lords have a superficial validity. However, really they speak to a lack of a properly written constitution, which would build in checks and balances against such a damaging log-jam occurring, not the innate need for the second chamber to be un-elected. In other words, proposals to only partially elect the Lords are to disguise constitutional timidity behind the fig-leaf of ‘r-r-r-r adicalism’. A legislative body must either be fully elected or not exist at all. In my opinion these are the only two options when it comes to Lords ‘reform’, the creation of a new, fully elected body in its place or its complete abolition.
Although the honours system is nauseating, it is a timely reminder of the democratic deficiencies of our system and how much needs to change before we can rightly claim to be the cradle of true democracy. Labour, which has hitherto been as bad at changing this as any other Party, would do well to champion this cause in the name of a true democracy and a proper meritocracy.