Joan Smith: I love my Lulu Guinness mules, but why is she getting a gong?

Someone scours the land for deferential folk who'll be grateful
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The Independent Online

They must be breathing a sigh of relief, the people who get together twice a year to dish out gongs. Another honours list was published yesterday and there was an immediate controversy, but for all the wrong reasons. The outrage was prompted by Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman of the Metropolitan Police, head of Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist operations, being appointed CBE, on the grounds that he was in charge of the raid on a house in East London when a man was shot and injured, but later released without charge.

Hayman got his gong for his response to the terrorist attacks in London on 7 July last year, when the police quickly identified the suicide bombers and made swift arrests after failed terrorist attacks two weeks later.

You might think no senior police officers should have been appointed honoured until the outcome of the inquiry into the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, but that's a different argument. Hayman had been appointed CBE and accepted it long before Forest Gate, and it's impossible to judge that episode until we know the assumptions the police were working on.

It's a pointless diversion from the real scandal. That is the way a supposedly reforming Government has failed to do something about the twice-yearly hand-out of honours with ridiculous titles to time-servers, controversial businessmen and people who are simply doing jobs they enjoy.

I've got a lovely pair of Lulu Guinness shoes, for instance, but does making pretty pink mules really qualify someone to be created Officer of the Order of the British Empire? And what could be more snobbish than giving OBEs to Guinness and the Welsh knitwear designer Julien Macdonald, while awarding the insignia of only an MBE to a 98-year-old woman who is still serving fish and chips?

Given that the Chancellor wants us all to work longer, there may be a subliminal message in the award to Constance Brown, who opened her chip shop in Pembroke in 1928, but it's also typical of the Government's patronising attitude to working-class people. Someone obviously has the job of scouring the land - and, latterly, reading the nominations we're now allowed to send in - to find deferential folk who will gratefully accept a minor award instead of asking why high-ranking civil servants, such as permanent secretaries, are virtually guaranteed knighthoods. Eighteen months ago, one even went to John Gieve, then permanent secretary at David Blunkett's Home Office, regardless of the fact that he had been unable to recall events surrounding the fast-tracking of a visa for his boss's lover's nanny.

But the really controversial nomination on yesterday's list came as a surprise even to its recipient, easyJet founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou. He got a knighthood for services to "entrepreneurship", an award that speaks volumes about which way the Government jumps when it has to choose between rich blokes and the environment. There is no doubt that Haji-Ioannou is an affable chap who has enabled millions to enjoy weekends in delightful European cities, but there is also no doubt that cheap air travel is wrecking the planet.

The problem for any politician who wants to call time on this farrago of nonsense is the risk of upsetting anyone who's ever accepted an honour or might be in with a chance in the future. The great advantage of a slimmed-down honours system, an Order of Britain or Order of Europe, say, is that the recipients would know it actually meant something. In the meantime, we're stuck with a parade of beaming people chosen without much more logic than the National Lottery.

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