They have given their best years in the service of the nation, on the benches and sometimes in the bars of the House of Commons. But when Britain's former MPs decided to award themselves a bauble to recognise their decades of hard graft, they were turned down flat because they didn't get permission to use parliamentary emblems in the design. The crowned portcullis emblem – licensed by the Queen – is perfect for decorating novelty teddy bears and bottles of whisky, but bureaucrats have ruled it is too important to adorn the lapels of hundreds of ex-MPs.
The Association of Former Members of Parliament (AFMP) – which lists illustrious figures including Sir John Major, Tony Blair and Lord Archer among its 400 members – has reacted with fury after the Commons authorities banned their proposed "campaign medal".
"It is not a big gong," protested AFMP chairman Sir Graham Bright, in defence of the triple-plated 18-carat gold piece, set in a green leather box with a silk inlay. "Any member of the public can enter the Commons or Lords gift shops, buy a gold brooch with the crowned portcullis and wear this on their lapel whenever they choose. Yet our members cannot wear the same showing their service to the House."
The AFMP agreed last year to produce an honour to rival brass plaques and certificates of service presented to their predecessors. AFMP officials took their task seriously, working with a company that numbers the Commons, Lego and the Kennel Club among its clients to produce a design which "the children and grandchildren of former MPs would be proud to inherit". But the AFMP later had to inform members that "All was going well... until the design was questioned, with the view put forward that it was inappropriate for the crowned portcullis motif to be used".
A House of Commons spokesman said the crowned portcullis was a royal badge and its use had been "formally authorised and licensed by Her Majesty the Queen". He added: "It should authenticate a communication from a Member of Parliament or Department of the House. It must not be used where there is a risk that its use may be wrongly represented as having the authority of the House."
The embargo means AFMP members including Edwina Currie, Lord Prescott and Gyles Brandreth – and expenses scandal veterans Sir Peter Viggers and Anthony Steen – will not be able to advertise their status as former MPs. Richard Tracey, an environment minister under Margaret Thatcher, said: "I share the frustration of colleagues who see plenty of parliamentary 'souvenirs' on sale with the crown included, yet we as former MPs with many years' service are being blocked by someone in the Speaker's Office from having it on our proposed lapel badge."
Sir Graham, a former Tory MP in Luton, said he was in negotiations with the authorities – but they had so far refused to budge. He said: "The design isn't sacrosanct, but there is always someone in Parliament who wants to object to something. It's just the way they do things."