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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A discredited honours system in need of reform?

As we await the publication of the New Year honours list over the next few days, a study by The Times newspaper has found that privately educated people dominate the top echelons of the honours system as much as they did 60 years ago.

They say that 46%, nearly half of the recipients of knighthoods and above in 2015 attended public school. The figure has hardly changed since 1955, when it was 50 per cent, yet only 6.5 per cent of the population goes to private school.

The paper adds that people who attended either Oxford or Cambridge also feature strongly on the list of those given top honours. This year, in the Queen’s birthday and new year lists, 27 per cent of the people who received knighthoods or damehoods, or were appointed Companion of Honour or Order of Merit, went to the universities. That is higher than the 18 per cent of 1955 and almost as high as the 29 per cent of 1965.

More honours should be handed to ordinary citizens who make a significant contribution to their community. Yet when that happens these local heroes get an MBE or an OBE at best, leaving the knighthoods and the CBEs to more established figures. That needs to be turned on its head.

It is not just the honour's system that is at fault, however. Honours are given to people who are prominent in public life or in government. It is those positions that tend to be dominated by Oxbridge graduates and public school pupils. It is only when we start to redress that imbalance that the award of honours will become more equal.

Scrapping the honours system just addresses the symptom of inequality. If we really want reform we need to deal with wider issues concerning who governs us and how they get to that position.
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