A system of little honour…

The Chinese girl turned out to be Korean. She also got herself flummoxed by the buses. A series of panicky emails arrived and in the last one she was about to catch the bus to Wigginton – entirely the wrong end of town.

Wait there, I’ll drive down, I emailed back.

“Oh my god Sorry… thank you so much…”

Another unplanned act of kindness in my role as an accidental B&B host. Lifts aren’t part of the deal for Airbnb, at least in theory. One potential visitor rather grandly requested I pick her up at the station. I declined and she stayed elsewhere.

Yet there I was, circling round the traffic-clogged station and failing to find anywhere to park, before nipping in to pick up the not Chinese girl. Later our new guest went out to eat and sent another email saying she couldn’t find the house. I didn’t spot that one until she’d returned. “Found it,” she said in a fresh email, even though I could hear her walking round in the bedroom upstairs.

Today sees the publication of the New Year’s Honours List, an occasion traditionally marked by a row over gong allocation. There are no honours suitable to a freelance journalist/blogger/accidental B&B host/jobseeker. Not that Man On Ledge is a fan of the honours system.

What we see nowadays is another crusty relic of our constitution, left over from when medieval monarchs wished to win over the land-owning classes with a title or two. It’s a curious mix of hereditary monarchy and political patronage, with an oddly nostalgic tang of long-gone Empire.

At times there have been attempts at applying a gloss of democracy. Harold Wilson issued MBEs for the Beatles, introducing the notion of gongs for famous entertainers or sportsmen, while John Major brought in public nominations in the 1990s (a fair enough idea).

If Major nodded to the public, David Cameron returns to the ignoble tradition of handing out stately baubles for party supporters or members, with 30 Conservatives earning an honour.

The most high-profile of these is a knighthood for the Australian right-wing political strategist Lynton Crosby, credited with winning the election for Cameron. That is like honouring Machiavelli for services to devilish manipulation. And as Niccolo is no longer available for hire, Crosby is the nearest equivalent in the dark arts of political gamesmanship.

Even the usually Tory-supporting Daily Mail today lays into the awards – “Gongs for cronies, donors and bungling bureaucrats” – while the Independent goes for “New Year’s Cronies list” and its smart little sister the ‘i’ prefers “The crony list: Tories take the honours.”

A little shabbier than usual, in other words. Honours should be given, if they should be given at all, to those who have served the country in some fashion; a political party is not synonymous with the country. Or it shouldn’t be. Sadly, Cameron’s Tories fail to see any difference, and hence feel it is perfectly fine to hand fistfuls of tainted baubles to their backers and buddies.

Honouring Crosby for unexpectedly swinging the election for the Conservatives is a dodgy piece of patronage. But will the honours system ever change? Unlikely, as it seems to be one of those musty daft British traditions that just stagger on, sometimes honouring the deserved, and sometimes seeming to be a system of little honour.

One answer would be for all politicians and bureaucrats to be deemed out of bounds. That way the partisan backslapping might dwindle and disappear.

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