Tuesday, 8 June 2010


Queens birthday honours out and I recall being asked (by a US tourist) once, "What does a knight do?"

I remember being a bit off the cuff at the time, I said: "A knight is someone who aids the weak, champions the poor and slays dragons, of course."

That description has sort of stuck with me since then. Being a knight is not a job, not something that you do. It is something you are even before the award. If you want to tell if an award was deserved, there is your benchmark.

The dragons would be metaphorical, but the idea shows the scale intended. You don't have to be successful, but you do need to embody the idea. The award itself is a recognition of these sorts of qualities, not just in an individual, but in society.

Of course, it can also be awarded erroneously to people who do not deserve it. It used to be that MPs would get knighted as a kind of bribe to make them "go quietly" - especially to those whose efforts tended to benefit their constituents ahead of their party. Anyone who is that much of a pain without ending up in prison probably deserves the award. These days the sir is pretty much automatic with some cabinet posts which is kind of silly.

As it is possible to get the title without being a knight, it is also possible to be a knight without getting the title. It is likely that there are many more knights than there are titles to go around. Inspiring knightly values in others would probably be a decent qualification for a knighthood. This is why I wanted to emphasise that the honour is also a sideways honour to our society.

Naturally we don't have to use this remnant of feudalism to so honour ourselves, and there is a self-congratulatory quality to the honours. It is a historical accident. An attempt to do away with the old system was tried, and managed to fall to immediate disrepute as the people who proposed the new scheme immediately honoured themselves and their mates.

There is always going to be a political mateyness about any political award. It would be nice to have an honours council which considers candidates without political interference but I don't see how this could be set up. Still, some sort of distancing from parliament would be good to see, given what that says about the kind of society we want to be.

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