MKGP considers our outdated and discriminatory honours system

9 July 2020

A local party member is proposing a motion to conference about changes to the honours system.  While the exact wording is being finalised here are some thoughts and a few of the issues under consideration. 

We cannot change the past but we can shape our future.  

These thoughts are not about getting rid of honours. They are about looking at changing part of the system which glorifies one part of our history and therefore, on a continuing basis, undermines Black Lives Matter.

We have CBEs, OBEs and MBEs, Dames and Knights all of which have Empire in their title.  Unfortunately, all are looking back to the past.  A past which is getting further away each year!

It seems clear that most people in Britain don't know the meaning or significance of honours.  They probably aren't bothered at all about honours created so many years ago.  For instance the British Empire Medal was created in 1917 by King George V.  

The CBE, OBE and MBE are parts of an order of chivalry rewarding contributions to the arts and sciences, charitable work and welfare organisations.

The hard work and dedication of the British people is very much in the present, but the honours which can be bestowed are all very much related to the past - to the now extinct British Empire.  

These honours surely show a desire to hark back to the past: for God, for empire, subjugation and racism. We cannot overlook that the empire  amounted to the deliberate domination of the African, Indian and American continents and their populations.

In 1993, there were reforms to the honours system under former Conservative Prime Minister John Major, as part of his drive towards a "classless" society.  A Commons Committee recommended in 2004 the phasing out of the BEM as its title was now considered to be unacceptable, being thought to embody values that are no longer shared by many of the country’s population.  However, it was revived in 2012 even though Britain no longer has an empire!

Apart from the archaic reference to "empire" the current honours system perpetuates discrimination between men and women: a woman cannot be knighted separately in respect of this order of chivalry whilst a man can be. Dame Commander for instance is below Knights Bachelor.

So there is deeply embedded discrimination on two counts.

Part of the process of recognising that Black Lives Matter is surely for Britain to stop looking backwards to a romanticised view of its empire past with CBEs, OBEs and MBEs, Dames and Knights.

MKGP is hoping to make a proposal to conference that the Green Party helps to devise more appropriate awards to recognise public achievement in future.

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