The Emperor's New Clothes (30/12/12)

Chatterers would have us believe the New Year Honours are archaic mumbo jumbo, but even adults need praise

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Tradition demands one of three responses to the New Year Honours list. One: why dish out so many? Two, to crow about all the people they left off. And three, to ask what is the point of all this archaic head-patting anyway?

The answer to the first is easy: a lot of people do a lot of remarkable work. If you find reading 1,350 names in tiny type across eight pages of the newspaper boring, pity the Queen and Prince Charles having to come up with 1,350 pithy things to say to the recipients twice a year.

As to the omissions, pointing them out is a favourite sport of columnists. Many years ago, someone suggested Bruce Forsyth should have a knighthood and one newspaper whipped up enough indignation to start a full-blown campaign. In 2008, almost 5,000 people signed a petition which was sent to Downing Street. Funnily enough, Whitehall mandarins like being bossed about as much as the rest of us, and the petition fomented a spirit of mutiny which delayed the honour, which finally arrived last year.

But it's the mean-spirited objection to the existence of the honours system at all that really needs scotching. Why make people commanders of an empire that we lost more than 60 years ago? What is a garter, anyway?

Well, the problem with living in an ancient country is that it comes with a lot of history. Probably, in an ideal world, we would rename the Order of the Bath, since recipients no longer undergo the mediaeval process of purification. But what to? The Excellence in Achievement Award?

When I did a teacher training course, we were told to make three positive comments to a child before making any criticism. That's obviously mad, and why I abandoned the profession, but praising someone when they have done well is an essential part of managing people. Even grown men and women need their heads patted when they've succeeded. And if the honours system is so creaky with tradition that it seems like something out of Hogwarts, what's so wrong with that? As we discovered when adults read Harry Potter books, we secretly like all that nonsense.

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