It has been an unusually competitive year for the annual New Year Dishonours, an antidote to the baubles handed out by the Queen to some of her best-behaved subjects.
With a well-run Olympic event in London and several sporting victories, levels of British smugness have hit something of a high and, as a result, there has been no shortage of public figures who have made their own small but nauseating contribution to our everyday lives.
This year, the Dishonours committee has avoided the usual clutch of public enemies – greedy bankers, dodgy DJs, spivvy tabloid journalists – in favour of the unsung villains of 2012. For services to gossip, George Monbiot. The normally virtuous environmentalist revealed how corrupting Twitter can be when he led speculation into Lord McAlpine’s private life after an inaccurate Newsnight investigation. When McAlpine cleared his name, the embarrassment of social media gossips was comical. One expected the usual Twitter idiots to make fools of themselves – sure enough, Sally Bercow was there – but Monbiot? It was a shock.
For services to blandness, Kate Middleton. After the ill-fated reign of Diana as queen of all our hearts, the palace’s marketing department must have hoped her son would find a future queen entirely without complexes or issues. Princess Barbie has exceeded their wildest dreams, smiling prettily and emptily through the two events of her year, Nipplegate and becoming pregnant.
For services to tabloid values, Ed Miliband. As if the Leveson Inquiry had never happened, the Labour leader eagerly supported a story about the Tory chief whip, which appears to have been cooked up by the police and then stoked further by their pals in the press.
For services to exploitation, Sir Richard Branson. At the very moment when sport was showing human nature at its best, the grinning billionaire loomed up with a series of TV advertisements, whose central premise was that Usain Bolt and Mo Farah, two of the greatest athletes in the world, longed to be mistaken for Richard Branson.
For services to sock puppetry, Grant Shapps. This senior government figure, we now know, would work under the online alias of Michael Green when promoting a series of faintly dubious self-help books. Shapps/Green saw his company suspended by Google for breaches of copyright rules, and it was later alleged that he was manipulating Twitter to increase the number of his followers. He was rewarded by being made co-chairman of the Conservative Party.
For services to literary bitchiness, Stephen Leather. Another fan of false internet identities, the crime writer boasted that he puffed his own books and held online conversations about himself, masquerading as a number of enthusiastic readers.
A runner-up in this crowded category, the thriller-writer RJ Ellory, praised his own “magnificent genius” – under a pseudonym, of course.