A minority will choose to live a life of dishonour, and society has developed ways and means of dealing with such reprobates. To be honoured either by birth or achievement brings with it responsibility, for those to whom much is given, much is expected. The honour ethic of the warrior has been written of since the time of Homer, and it is inseparable from the notion of dignity – the characteristic by which we think of ourselves as commanding (or failing to command) the respect of those around us. The absence can be catastrophic, for self-worth derives from both honour and dignity – in both the higher ‘warrior caste’ of public life an in the ordinary life of production and reproduction. Indeed, competition for recognition of this dignity – the desire for our dignity to be honoured – is part of what animates democratic politics.
His Grace wasn’t going to comment on the benighted media splurge on the newly un-benknighted Fred Goodwin. Such public humiliation is a profound personal tragedy – of the sort which might send many a man over the edge. Mr Goodwin is human: he made some rather significant errors of judgment, and as a consequence has been dishonoured and has once again joined the ranks of the un-honoured. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.
But it is curious that those who operate in a perpetual paradigm of political expedience should be termed ‘honourable’ and ‘right honourable’ (though, significantly, only to their honourable and right honourable friends and colleagues). Politics is a very public existence, and to be elected undoubtedly bestows honour. And yet politicians mete out injustices with impunity, and often act from the basest of selfish motives in order to pander to the even baser instincts of the mob. Plato had one or two things to say about this. But His Grace finds that whenever he write a more philosophical post, it is read by fewer people and attracts fewer comments. Which is a dishonourable motive, really. But there’s no point blogging just for oneself, is there? (There’s a name for that. Or ought to be. How about ‘blogturbation’?)
But to Mr Goodwin, whose name will now forever rank alongside those of traitors, murderers and fraudsters: Antony Blunt, Robert Mugabe, Jack Lyons, Lester Piggott...
Perhaps he deserves it. Perhaps he doesn’t. His Grace hears both sides, and neither persuades him. But he is persuaded that it ought not to be for some anonymous quango called the Honours Forfeiture Committee which meets in secret to determine whether or not the Queen should cancel and annul an honour where its retention would bring the honours system into disrepute. This body acts in a quasi-judicial capacity, but the victim may make no representation or call witnesses to testify on his or her behalf: it is a political body, convened at the whim of the Prime Minister who is bound to respond to the baying of the mob. It cannot deliver justice.
Since orders of knighthood and decorations and medals are in the gift of the Sovereign, and the Sovereign is honourable and reigns by the Grace of God, it ought to be for a Judicial Committee of the Privy Council to determine whether or not an honour should be cancelled and annulled. And His Grace brings God into this because if the Lord can taketh away what he giveth, the same authority ought to be granted the Sovereign, who reigns by His Grace and has sworn an oath to govern wisely in His name. So ‘Life Peerages’ ought to be restyled simply ‘Peerages’ (since the hereditary sort is being phased out). Or, after the fasion of ‘Cool Britannia’, how about ‘People’s Peers’. Or, drawing on the senate tradition of Rome, ‘Citizens’ Peers’, for ultimately they are Peers of the People of the United Kingdom. And this reform would permit Her Majesty to cancel and annul those granted to Lords Archer, Taylor, Paul, Bhatia, Hanningfield and Baroness Uddin...
For despite their manifest dishonour, they may continue to sit in the Upper House of Parliament to make and amend the law of the land which they do not themselves have the honour or dignity to uphold. Amidst the ongoing revolution in the House of Lords, the ability to ‘recall’ those who bring the Peerage into disrepute would have been a relatively straightforward and (dare His Grace say) a thoroughly Conservative reform.