So What about Your Knighthood, Sir Humphrey?

Article excerpt

Byline: Andrew Alexander

STRIPPING former RBS chief executive Fred Goodwin of his knighthood raises fascinating and even entertaining questions of what the honours list is for.

Prime Ministers love it because over the generations, it has helped keep backbenchers in order. The lure of an eventual K has long been irresistible to some MPs.

'It's the wife who really wanted the title,' a Tory MP once told me on receiving his K after a lifetime of undistinguished service. Even a CBE can help to keep party supporters on side, though that level of modest reward is normally confined to humble trades like journalism.

Lord Northcliffe, who owned this and various other newspapers a century ago, declared that journalists should not accept honours since it could make them fawn over the government of the day.

He was quite right, though the fact that he accepted a peerage might make one wonder. Joining the House of Lords was different, it could be argued, because it assumed that the newspaper proprietors etc had a serious political talent.

At any rate, that is the way the system has worked hitherto. But there are signs that it is now failing in an important respect.

Tory backbenchers are rebelling regularly and in large numbers, usually about some problem arising from the EU.

The whips do their best, but the Parliamentary Spring is proving to be real and is worth cheering.

The Northcliffe view on honours for the scribblers was certainly ignored by Harold Wilson as Prime Minister. He was very liberal in scattering them around Fleet Street.

If he got a bad press it was certainly not due to holding back with his favours, including peerages. Eventually his excessive kindness led to scandals in his resignation honours -- in the socalled Lavender List row. …