In Honour of Honours

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David Cameron’s one time policy wonk, Steve Hilton, took to the airwaves to attack the honours system on the back of the publication of the ex-Prime Minister’s resignation honours list.
He joined a chorus that included the increasingly rent-a-quote regular Sir Alistair Graham.
Even Tim Farron defied ridicule by criticising Cameron whilst temporarily forgetting the fact that he has 141 Liberal Democrat Peers at a time when he has just eight colleagues in the elected chamber.
In all the froth and fury of a silly season story, it is worth just thinking for a moment what our honours system is for. Some people get honours for kicking or hitting a ball well, some for pleasing TV audiences and yes, some for being quite good at politics. But most recipients of this denigrated system are the worthy and the hitherto unthanked. The long-serving dinner lady, the mountain rescue stalwart and the children’s football coach are the types that make up the vast majority of the Queen’s Birthday or the New Year Honours list.
Steve Hilton claims that the recognition of those who were around David Cameron in his six years as Prime Minister is an example of a “corrupt” system. Really Steve? The most senior politician in the land is paid £143,462 per annum. Local Council Chief Executives are nearly all paid more; in many cases much more. The median pay for FTSE 100 Chief Executives is just under £4 million. I am not saying that the prime minster should be paid more, but we should recognise that it is a job that requires life and death decisions, an 18 hour day and intense intrusion into their private life.
It is therefore reasonable that one thing our system can offer an outgoing prime minister is the ability to reward those who have also made sacrifices to make a success of his or her premiership.
Of course, they shouldn’t take it too far. Indeed I think we would all look unfavourably on an ex-prime minster who had lavished honours on his nearest and dearest after only being in the job for a few months and who was leaving with dire approval ratings.
In David Cameron’s case it was different. Up until the referendum fiasco his was an astonishingly successful six years in No 10. He left with approval ratings that most political leaders would envy. Those around him were part of that endeavour and worked long hours for little acclaim. They could be seen in the back of meetings in varying stages of exhaustion and often exasperation. They must have frequently wondered why they weren’t working somewhere that involved sane hours and more money. We shouldn’t begrudge them a gong.
Steve Hilton’s attack is part of a pattern. He seems to want to find a way to damage someone to whom he owes so much. For most of us, if we found ourselves in disagreement with someone to whom we had personal links in the good times and the very bad, we would just keep schtum.
Steve’s claim that there is nothing personal in his attacks on Mr Cameron sound absurd but may have something to do with wanting to maximise publicity around the launch of the paperback edition of his book or the launch of a new business venture.
Whatever the reasons, it strikes many people as an unpleasant way to behave. For those of us who have experience of Steve in Government there is actually something comedic in his recent descents from Olympus (California) to lecture us mere mortals on how to improve our sad little lives. With Steve, self-regard has never been a commodity in short supply and the patronising pomposity of his interventions do have the ability to be unintentionally comedic. In Government many of us have had moments with Steve that could have come straight off the script of The Thick of It. He has a superb mind and one that played an important part in getting Cameron into No 10. By contrast, in Government many of us found Steve to be a nightmare. His style involved temper tantrums and an inability to understand how much compromise is needed, particularly in coalition.
To listen to the fury on radio phone-ins following the announcement of the resignation honours you would have thought that our whole honours system was corrupted and just for the “elite”. Anyone can propose people for honours. I do so regularly for worthy constituents. The vast majority go to those who are not well known and have never been near to politics. But within that system it is right that a retiring prime minister who holds down one of the most difficult jobs in modern life, should reward those who have made great sacrifices to play their part in public life.
As seen in the Daily Telegraph on Monday 8th August 2016
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Richard Benyon was re-elected as the Member of Parliament for Newbury on 7 May 2015, with an increased majority of 26,368. Richard won 61 per cent of the vote share.



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