UK: How even are those honours?

UK: How even are those honours? - The justification for Britain's honours system - sometimes dismissed as an anachronistic absurdity - is that it is a remarkably cost-effective way of rewarding those who give outstanding service to the nation.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The justification for Britain's honours system - sometimes dismissed as an anachronistic absurdity - is that it is a remarkably cost-effective way of rewarding those who give outstanding service to the nation.

But publication of the Honours List is also an occasion for people with sharp noses to detect a faint whiff of injustice. It happened again this summer when, as reported in the press, a study by the union-funded Labour Research Department revealed that, out of a total of 147 industrialists knighted during Margaret Thatcher's years as Prime Minister, 68 were connected to companies giving financial support to the Conservative Party and its allies.

That was shortly before the 1991 Birthday Honours - the first of the Major Government - which created seven private sector industrial knights, including three chiefs of companies which support the Tories.

But what about the other 55% or so? Doesn't it smack of sharp practice that these men should have got their knighthoods without having to put their hands in their corporate coffers?

However, you can stand the argument on its head. What about the 500 and more companies which the Labour Research Department has on computer as Tory subscribers, but which have little or nothing to show for it? Some of them have paid out tens of thousands of pounds without picking up so much as a measly CBE.

Perhaps their time has yet to come. Store managers at B and Q could soon be congratulating Sir Geoffrey Mulcahy of Kingfisher (£160,000 to Conservative funds since 1985). Their colleagues at Argyll Group (£162,000 over the same period) may be proud to shake the hand of Sir Alistair Grant. As the economy pulls out of recession, Sir Gareth Davies will no doubt lead Glynwed (£228,000 during the 1980s) to new heights. Can Sir Michael Gifford do the same for Rank (£360,000 in a dozen years)?

Some companies obtain excellent value, of course. Beecham Group was a staunch Tory supporter under both Sir Graham Wilkens and Sir Ronald Halstead; SmithKline Beecham has maintained the tradition (£30,000 in 1989). So is Bob Bauman in line for a KBE? As an American he won't be able to flaunt it, unfortunately.

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