I have written before about this man- who has been a bit of a hero of mine since my student days, because he seemed to have found a way of combining many of the things I valued- Christianity, socialism, social action, community work, radicalism in the service of social justice.
You can watch a short clip of him telling his story on Greenbelt TV- and if you look carefully you will see me in the audience!
Today I heard that he had been nominated for an honour in the Queens list – an MBE – but he turned it down. In this article he explains why;
The honours are bestowed by the monarchy. As a democrat, I am opposed to a queen and other royals who wield great public influence in spite of never having been elected. Yes, the queen has displayed dignity and upheld certain moral values, but the one who succeeds her because of biological inheritance may be very different.
The nature of the royal influence is rarely questioned. The princes usually enlist in the armed forces and so identify with Britain’s aggressive wars. It is unthinkable for any member of the royal family to be a pacifist.
The royals possess enormous riches. The queen’s personal fortune is estimated at £310m, plus possessions valued in billions. The state supports her with an annual £32m. Yet at the very time her jubilee is being celebrated at huge cost, the poor are getting poorer, the unemployed more numerous, the gap between those at the bottom and those at the top wider. Every week, theTrussell Trust opens more centres to distribute food parcels. I have met several families who can no longer afford to send their children on holiday.
The unelected monarchy reinforces and sanctions inequality. The BBC and most of the press pour undiluted praise on the royals while imposing a virtual gag on the views of republicans. No senior politician has the courage to question the continuation of the monarchy. Taking a gong or title is an expression of support for the royals.
My proposed MBE was “for services to the community in Easterhouse, Glasgow”. Last week, I was at a community project called Family Action in Rogerfield & Easterhouse (Fare), which I helped to start 22 years ago. Serving at the cafe was a man who has been a volunteer since the start. He cannot manage paid employment but his loyalty is such that he has been elected to Fare’s board of directors. Another long-term helper works six days a week as a security guard on minimum wage. He takes one holiday a year and joins the under-canvas camp where he toils as a cook. Fare’s grants have been cut – so much for the “big society” – and three staff were to be made redundant. The rest of the workers, nearly all local residents, agreed to a 7% cut in their own modest incomes so that the three could be kept on. And many more. Why should I get a royal reward for services to Easterhouse and not them?
I am an egalitarian. I believe that a socially and materially equal society is more united, content and just. The royal honours system is designed to promote differences of status. It is made clear that those who are made knights or dames are socially superior to those given CBEs, OBEs or MBEs. But all are socially above those without honours. These imposed differences hinder the co-operation, interaction and fellowship, which are the characteristics of equality. Refusing a royal honour is a small step but one in the right direction.