Queen's Birthday honours: Business as usual for the mandarins of Whitehall

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
TONY BLAIR's gradual revolution of the honours system, with more high-rank honours going to front-line workers in education and health, has made no impact on the routine hand-out of top-notch awards to Whitehall mandarins.

The leading name in today's list of life peers is Sir Terry Burns, the outgoing Permanent Secretary to the Treasury, who was knighted in 1983, three years after he became chief economic adviser to the Treasury, and became a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB) in 1995, four years after he became Permanent Secretary.

Elevation to the Lords is the natural pinnacle for a senior official who is currently paid a basic rate of pounds 130,000, compared with the Prime Minister's total salary of pounds 102,417.

But the underlying message that rank begets honour is further illustrated by the fact that the man who is to replace Sir Terry at the Treasury from next month, Andrew Turnbull, currently Permanent Secretary at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, is meanwhile made up from lowly Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) to Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) - one rung short of Sir Terry's GCB.

The other senior civil servant in today's list, Valerie Strachan, chairman of HM Board of Customs and Excise, becomes a Dame Commander of the Order of the Bath (DCB).

Mr Turnbull and Mrs Strachan are the only two people in the country to merit those two honours, because the Order of the Bath appears to be reserved for civil servants, just as the Order of St Michael and St George appears to be the exclusive reserve of HM Diplomatic Service.

Again, rank directly relates to the grade of honour given. Alan Goulty, ambassador to Khartoum, becomes a CMG, lowly Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George; Andrew Green CMG, ambassador to Riyadh, becomes a Knight Commander, or KCMG; and David Williamson CB, former secretary general of the European Commission, becomes a Knight Grand Cross, or GCMG. Within the Diplomatic Service, the three ranks are translated to mean: Call Me God; Kindly Call Me God; and God Calls Me God.

The only politician to be honoured today is Lord Harris of Greenwich, the Liberal Democrat Chief Whip in the House of Lords, and a former Home Office Minister in the Labour Government, who becomes a Privy Counsellor.

But the Prime Minister will announce a separate list of new "working peers" next week, as part of his drive to increase the Labour strength in a Lords that is currently dominated by a Tory combination of hereditary and life peers who are threatening to obstruct Mr Blair's plans to end the rights of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the Upper House.

In business, the Chairman of British Airways, Sir Colin Marshall, is raised to the peerage. Knighthoods go to Robert Malpas, Co-Chairman of Eurotunnel, Patrick Gillam, Chairman of Standard Chartered Bank, Edmund Browne, Group Chief Executive of BP, Malcolm Bates, Chairman of the Pearl Group.