Being a REAL “Community Champion” and the Order of the British Empire

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  • To award or not to award?
  • Is the Queen’s New Year’s honours list “fit for purpose”?
  • Is it too archaic?
  • Does it reflect well on the real achievements of our “Community Champions”?

I must admit that I don’t usually pay too much attention to the Queen’s New Year’s honours list. This year was a bit different mainly because a former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was chosen by the Queen for the knighthood. Not surprisingly, in a couple of days, more than 500,000 people have signed the petition to revoke his knighthood. Some of these calls were driven by families, whose members lost their loved ones during the war in Iraq.

In political terms, Mr Blair has been a very successful politician. He was a Prime Minister, undoubtedly one of the hardest jobs in the land, for 10 years (1997-2007). In a way, I should be grateful to Tony Blair as it was he who allowed Poles and other Eastern European nationals to come to Britain since the largest enlargement of the EU in 2004.

However, in my view he lost political integrity and credibility when he decided to support the invasion of Iraq. Since leaving the office, he has travelled globally to give talks on a wide range of issues. I found it staggering that he was supposed to be giving a speech on how to feed the poor in Sweden in 2015. This was dropped for a simple reason; Mr Blair’s fees were too high (£330,000!).

In my opinion, I am not sure whether people who are paid to do a particular job, even if they do it very well, should be receiving a knighthood. For me an example of someone who deserves recognition is Marcus Rashford, who didn’t get an MBE for his fantastic football skills but for  additional (and exceptional!) work that he has been doing to support vulnerable children.

Finally, I am so happy that the Queen’s New Year Honour list includes two youngest recipients; Tobias Weller (11) and Max Woosey (12), who are inspirational heroes! Tobias, who has cerebral palsy and autism, raised an amazing £157,000 for The Children’s Hospital Charity as well as his special educational needs school. Max raised £570,000 for North Devon Hospice by spending every night in a tent since 28th March 2020.

In conclusion; it is NOT about our personal status, social or political background. We are ALL called to make a difference and enhance our communities. It is not even about some sort of “recognition”. Our skills and talents, as selfless acts of support and generosity, can truly transform many lives! We all have a lot to give!

 

* Michal Siewniak is a Lib Dem activist and former councillor

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11 Comments

  • Brad Barrows 6th Jan '22 - 6:08pm

    At the very least, the names of some medals should be updated. The days of the British Empire are long since gone.

  • John Barrett 6th Jan '22 - 8:18pm

    Honours and titles that are in the gift of the Monarch, Prime Minister or anyone else, have always been given to the recipients for a wide variety of reasons; including personal friendships to party leaders, to political donors, for time serving in certain Civil Service jobs and even as a consolation prize to failed politicians. Also to genuine people, who did something extraordinary, like Sir Thom Moore.

    Changing the system will never be a priority, as long as those who might make the changes are also the same people who might want to be on the next honours list.

  • Steve Trevethan 7th Jan '22 - 9:17am

    Who pays for the outfit that goes with Sir Blair’s appointment?

  • Rif Winfield 7th Jan '22 - 10:05am

    As Brad says, the main objection is to the perpetuation of the word “Empire”, which is an insult to the rest of the world and implies a hankering back to the says when Britain dominated and exploited a huge spice of the world’s land area, population and resources. I can see why many people want to retain some system of honouring contributions to society in this UK (although many of the justification for individual awards might be questionable, such as giving awards to senior and highly-paid civil servants for simply doing their job); but this in no way requires the use of the term “Empire”.

  • Rif Winfield 7th Jan '22 - 10:07am

    Sorry about two typos. In third line, “says” should read “days”, while”spice” should read “slice”.

  • Barry Lofty 7th Jan '22 - 10:43am

    I have long ago ceased to respect the honours system which I know is a shame as there are many who truly deserve to be be recognised for their contributions to society.

  • John Barrett 7th Jan '22 - 10:47am

    I agree with Rif that the use of the word Empire is ridiculous in the present day, but this is not the main problem with the existing system which must be that the entire system as it is at present mixes the well earned honour for performing outstanding work outwith what a person is paid for, and those who simply donate large sums of money to political parties or are friends of those who give out the honours.

    Sadly, after many years of justified criticism of the behaviour of both the Labour and Conservative parties, our party joined in with them when Nick Clegg awarded a range of honours and titles to exactly the same groups of friends, donors and those who lost their seats in Parliament and we are now equally guilty as both the other parties and on very thin ice when it comes to criticising the existing system.

  • Rif Winfield
    The Order of the British Empire is not the normal award for the civil servants, diplomats or military so they would be unaffected by any change to that part of the honours system.

    The Order of the British Empire is the most general system and normally covers things like community contribution activity, sports, media etc.

    I agree that it ought to be allowed to become dormant, but the argument of “it’s offensive” is a very bad argument for reform. What does seem more effective is pointing out it doesn’t seem to reflect the nature of what is trying to be encapsulated by the awards. A new Order of [contribution – can’t think of a good title right now] which had more of a feel of the types of activity included should be easy to envision.

    I suspect an argument put in the terms of that would be easier to persuade the appropriate authorities to get on board with than to frame any suggestion in a negative attack on the existing general set of awards given to so many. Putting forward a positive would be a more likely route to success.

  • Kevin Hawkins 7th Jan '22 - 1:16pm

    Order of British Excellence has been suggested as an alternative name. It could be applied retrospectively to existing holders.

  • Jason Connor 8th Jan '22 - 1:02pm

    I agree with the comments by fs and Kevin. We have a Duke of Edinburgh Award so why not a Queen’s Award for Excellence, Outstanding Contribution to Society etc. as a means of replacing the ‘E’ for empire in OBE and MBE.

  • Jason Connor 8th Jan '22 - 2:55pm

    Actually this is also a really good and balanced article by Michal. People tend to forget some of the better things Tony Blair did as PM as they are very much overshadowed by the Iraq War and his support of the invasion. I am thinking about Sure Start, the Connexions Service etc, services incidentally then undermined by the coalition.

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