This week I was playing fantasy Honours List. I’m never going to get a call from the Palace, but I was really pleased that Hanif Malik was awarded an OBE. Hanif has worked hard over many years to build Beeston’s Hamara Centre into what it is today. I haven’t spoken to Hanif yet, but I expect he will say that the award is a reflection on the work of the whole team at Hamara.
So how would I react if I was offered an OBE? I’m afraid I would have to refuse it. Not out of modesty, but because it’s a deeply flawed system based on an out-dated and backward looking view of Britain.
There is no criticism of Hanif in this. I can entirely understand why he has accepted the honour. It’s official recognition for Hamara and for Beeston; and at time when Muslims are vilified in the media it’s a positive story.
What’s wrong with the Honours system? Its main function is to reward civil servants, senior politicians and party donors. I’ve got nothing against civil servants, but giving them an honour for long service or achieving a high position is just unnecessary. Honouring political donations is very close to corruption.
Then we have a sprinkling of celebrities to brighten up the front pages, because they don’t get enough exposure do they? And finally, bringing up the rear, the one defendable part of the list, the people like Hanif who beaver away in their communities making a real difference on the ground.
And then there are the names of the honours. Take, for example, the OBE – the Order of the British Empire. What British Empire? All that’s left is the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar and St Helena where we can even build a functioning airstrip, plus a few tax havens in the Caribbean. Perhaps we are being asked to remember when ‘we’ ruled half the world and the sun never set on the British Empire. I seem to remember the graffiti reckoned that was because the British didn’t trust the natives after dark.
I’m afraid there was nothing glorious about the Empire. Ask the Indian hand loom weavers who had their hands cut off because they were competition for Lancashire’s new cotton mills, or the Africans shipped across the Atlantic to work and die on sugar plantations. The empire was about the British ruling class building their wealth by plundering raw materials, labour and creating markets for British goods at gunpoint.
I know the Honours List is decided by a government committee these days, but they are awarded by the Queen. Now I didn’t vote for this government, but at least I took part in an election. None of us voted for the Queen. Our head of state is decided by accident of birth, it can’t be the best system can it?
I worry that the present Queen has lulled us into a false sense of security about still having a monachy. She’s been sensible enough not to get involved in politics, but that’s rare in her family. Her uncle supported Hitler and her son writes to ministers to try and change legislation in his favour.
And what about the national anthem? What an uninspiring dirge! The Euros remind us what a proper anthem should sound like. The Russian anthem had me standing up the other day, the Germans have got Beethoven and the French Marseillaise always summons up the spirit of the barricades – remember the café scene in Casablanca?
Does all this really matter? What’s wrong with a bit of nostalgia? Traditions harking back to the country’s history?
I think it does matter. At best it’s a distraction from what’s really going on for ordinary people in austerity Britain. At worst it helps to stoke the worst nationalism at a time when the country is trying to make a decision about its future place in the world.
The Leave campaign have quickly descended from arguing about trading options to running a fear of immigration campaign with frankly racist characterisations of Turkish people.
Tragically yesterday we saw what happens when you open the Pandora’s box of nationalism. You give rein to the far right to crawl out of their corners and end up with a man shouting “Britain First” as he murders an MP who stood up, not only for her constituents, but also for migrants and international solidarity.
I’ll be on back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.