Why I am anything but a dame

The reckless insertion of corporate claptrap into the English language is high on the list of New Labour crimes
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The Independent Online

Look, this really isn't difficult, not like sorting out education or the health service. Honestly, I could come up with a new honours system on the back of an envelope, without having to go to all the trouble of setting up an inquiry or holding select committee hearings. In fact I'd say it's a rule that the more time and energy anyone puts into it, the worse the solution they come up with, such as last week's suggestion from a bunch of well-meaning MPs of a new Order of British Excellence.

Look, this really isn't difficult, not like sorting out education or the health service. Honestly, I could come up with a new honours system on the back of an envelope, without having to go to all the trouble of setting up an inquiry or holding select committee hearings. In fact I'd say it's a rule that the more time and energy anyone puts into it, the worse the solution they come up with, such as last week's suggestion from a bunch of well-meaning MPs of a new Order of British Excellence.

I mean, please. Having already turned down an MBE on political grounds, I would have to reject this one for linguistic reasons. Writers are sensitive to language, unlike politicians, and I can't think of many people who would treasure something that sounds like a certificate awarded to the manager of the month at Tesco. When the court of history comes to tot up the crimes of New Labour, as it surely will, the reckless insertion of so much corporate claptrap into the English language should be near the top of the charge sheet.

During a discussion of the select committee recommendations on Radio 5 Live last week, the presenter told me, as though landing a knockout blow, that a Tory frontbencher had dismissed all of us who turn down honours under the present system as awkward, left-wing and republican. So what? As I keep pointing out, boring old farts who would mud-wrestle naked in order to get an invitation to a Buckingham Palace garden party can't expect an honours system just for themselves and their chums. I am as much a British citizen as people who vote Conservative, hold mildly homophobic views about gay priests and think political correctness has, frankly, run mad in this country.

I don't mind if readers of The Daily Telegraph get an honour, as long as they've done something to deserve it - and I don't mean working at the Treasury for 32 years or getting a gold medal at the Olympics, which is surely reward enough. I certainly don't think pop stars, football managers or other members of the celebritariat should be eligible, unless they have worked in refugee camps for a couple of years to atone for their past sins.

The quality of the debate is not yet quite what I would wish - I sat out a baffling argument on Radio 5 as to whether Sebastian Coe deserved a peerage more than Steve Ovett - but at least it's happening. That in itself demonstrates that things have changed, nothing like as much as they should have done after seven years of Labour government, but the old establishment no longer has a stranglehold on decisions about who should be admitted to the great and good.

I should imagine I've said and done enough by now to ensure that nobody ever offers me anything again, which is OK by me. (Thanks here to all the friends who thought of exactly the same joke, which was to address me as "dame" for several weeks.) But I'm not opposed to an honours system, as long as the number of recipients and awards is cut down and the wording changed to reflect the fact that we live in a secular democracy. A friend of mine, also a writer, recently turned down an honour from the Turkish government on the grounds that he didn't fancy becoming a "state author", which just goes to show that there are many ways of getting an honours system wrong.

But clearly all that tosh about the British Empire and the monarch should go, along with any mention of old gents in the sky; if people want to have imaginary friends, fine, but they can't expect rationalists to accept a medal whose motto is "for God and the Queen". Peerages and knighthoods should get the chop as well and we should be left with just two types of honours, starting with an Order of Britain for people who have made a contribution to human rights or otherwise increased the sum of human happiness. Then there should be an award for bravery, open to members of the armed forces, but with no discrimination between officers and other ranks.

Er, that's it. I told you I could reform the whole damned thing on the back of an envelope or, as it turns out, a single paragraph of this column. Watch this space: next week I sort out the Arab-Israeli conflict.

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