Honours system to face the test of meritocracy

Click to follow
The Independent Online
JOHN MAJOR is considering creating a new award for merit as part of a reform of the honours system to reflect his belief in the 'classless society'.

The New Year's Honours next week promise to be the last under the old system under which senior civil servants, judges, the military, diplomats and MPs are guaranteed awards according to rank.

Mr Major believes awards should more closely reflect merit. At the risk of it becoming known as the 'MMM - Major Merit Medal', the Prime Minister's Office confirmed he was considering a new honour.

In a move which could send a shiver through the Sir Humphreys in the senior ranks of the civil service, Mr Major returned from his visit to the US determined to put an end to the 'gong by rank' system. 'I will be bringing some changes in the early part of 1993 . . . It will bring the honours system up to date,' Mr Major said.

The first targets for the changes are likely to be the top diplomats, who receive the Order of St Michael and St George, an award dating back to 1818.

They can expect to rise by order of seniority from companion or CMG - known around Whitehall as 'Call me God' - to Knight Commander - KCMG, 'Kindly Call Me God' - and finally, if they reach the pinnacle, a Knight Grand Cross - GCMG, 'God Calls Me God'.

Those serving in far-flung posts, such as Algiers, Lyons and Abidjan, all received their CMGs in one recent list and would have been expecting their KCMGs in the natural course of events.

But in future, they may have to demonstrate they have earned their honours by merit. Mr Major's change to a meritocracy will have a modest beginnings, however. 'I don't propose whole-scale dramatic changes in the honours system,' he said.

It is unlikely to lead to the end of political honours, under which knighthoods are bestowed on retiring MPs and ministers who have given up their red boxes and ministerial cars. The power of political patronage is too important to be abolished by Mr Major, even in a classless society.