Tom Phillips: The only present for a royal who has everything: a nice shiny gong

Philip just wasn't happy with that goat for Africans you gave him
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The Independent Online

So Zara Phillips - the Queen's granddaughter who symbolises the vibrant, modern face of the Royal Family by being good at riding horses - is to receive an honour from Grandma in the New Year list. I think I can speak for all ruddy-faced peasants when I say that it fills me with the greatest joy; a true glow of cloth-cap-clutching warmth that will see us through the hard times as we slave away in the tallow factories. Huzzah, I say. While I'm at it, I should also wish Mr Brunel the very best of luck in developing his astounding Mechanical Conveyances.

But perhaps there are still some among you harbouring seditious thoughts: that giving an honour to someone who's only a few tragic helicopter accidents away from being Queen herself maybe makes the whole system look, shall we say, a tad silly. To those people I would simply say: what, have you never been stuck over what to get a relative for Christmas?

This bears all the hallmarks of last-minute Christmas-shopping desperation - what do you get a girl who's already got rather a lot? She's the world eventing champion, for goodness' sake; she neither wants nor needs a pony. Sure, the press reports have covered the fact that Zara's getting an honour; what they've ignored is that she's also getting some scented bath oils and a copy of Schott's Almanac.

An honour's the perfect solution to such dilemmas, and I fully expect to see the royals adopt the practice more often in the future. Whatever, it's likely to work out better than last Christmas, when they decided to buy a goat for a village in sub-Saharan Africa as their gift to Prince Philip. Wasn't happy. Wasn't happy at all.

In fact, this interesting new approach to the bestowing of honours surely shows the way forward for an increasingly anachronistic institution. If the various archaic orders of chivalry are to have any place in the 21st century, it's surely as a form of Everybody Gets a Prize Day.

Honours should be available to everybody, given and received as tokens of minor affection and dutiful recognition. Rather than being obscure symbolic relics of a bygone age, dispersed by some dusty committee in a long-forgotten Westminster backroom, they should be piled up by supermarket checkouts next to the sweeties and copies of Grazia.

"I can't think what to get Uncle Dave for his birthday." "Look, there's the Knight Grand Cross of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George. He'd love that."

As a bonus, it would also solve the cash-for-honours scandal at a stroke. If we've learned one lesson from our crushing defeat in the War on Drugs, it's that you can't hope to root out an evil by targeting individual bad guys for their wrongdoing. Thus, instead of going after various New Labour fixers for bending the rules to breaking point, just legalise it all and flood the market.

Moreover, people should be able to choose what sort of honour they get, to the point of being allowed to make up titles on a whim. Speaking for myself, I've always quite fancied declaring myself Grand Panjandrum of Whipsnade; under this system, I could. It's an approach that worked very well for Turkmenistan's dictator Saparmurat Niyazov, and I don't see why we should be denied such an opportunity.

In the meantime, we can only hope the Zara enjoys her new honour, and that it's not too awkward at the family Christmas dinner. After all, she's been caught somewhat by surprise on the Christmas present front; she'd only got the Queen some socks and a book token. Still, it's the thought that counts.