The British citizens have already reconciled with the idea that money can buy you prestige or even immortality of a sort. You can buy the naming rights to about anything, from park benches to university chairs.
By Nazarul Islam
A recent investigation by the British newspapers Sunday Times and OpenDemocracy, examined in details how donors to the British Conservative party have kept mysteriously, ending up with peerages. Obviously, this story caused a predictable outcry. Nevertheless, placed in the context of British political history…the story was less than shocking!
For contemporary Britons, this was also less than alarming. Along with “six weeks to save the NHS”, “Cash for Honors” is one of the most enduring allusions of British political life.
Last September one of Prince Charles’ senior aides was accused of having sold a CBE to a Saudi businessman for a £1.50 million donation to one of the Prince’s charities. In October, it was alleged that someone had purchased a life peerage for £150,000, paid into the party’s political donations.
All of these stories have fomented the usual backlash — tiresome think pieces about how the whole damned ‘honors system’ should be thrown away into the Channel or be reformed. Of course, I don’t know if any of the accusations are true — but even if people somewhere in this country are selling honors for filthy lucre, so what?
Think about it. The CBE is a beautiful, blue cross hung on a ribbon. It’s pretty, but the very idea of putting those three letters behind your name is worth today as much as the market price of a central London, one-bedroom flat (apartment). And, this could be shockingly is insane for some people – Because, there were times when the head of the Government couldn’t even give them away for free. When Mrs. Thatcher desired to offer to one to her election guru Gordon Reece, he was so offended by its lowly status—that he told her to get stuffed.
The filmmaker Michael Winner had once refused the even lower-ranking OBE because it’s “what you get if you clean the toilets well at King’s Cross station”.
Sell a thousand CBEs for £1.5 million and the Royal Navy could pay for a new destroyer. Is the honor of the now-defunct British Empire really worth that much?
Peerages in Britain are a trickier business — they carry some real-life benefits. You get an attendance allowance if you show up at the House of Lords, and being a lord does make it easier for the recipient to book tables at restaurants. If someone got one for £100,000, the real scandal would be that it was sold so cheaply.
In any society, there is going to be influence-peddling—favored by elitists, and the rich and famous are always going to have an outsized influence on politics: therefore, why not charge them the full economic cost, instead of under-selling and pretending to be outraged, at this idea later on!
If anything, Britain should adopt an open and transparent approach to honors selling. Thailand, for instance, publishes an official price list for their price list of state ‘honors’: for a measly 1,500,000 Bahts, or about £33,000, you can become a Companion of The Most Admirable Order of the Direkgunabhorn, which is roughly equivalent to a CBE.
Royal Chakri dynasty of old times ‘Siam’ which grants them the title, is far more interesting than the Windsors: the Thai king’s ancestors have been known to lead punitive expeditions on war elephants when the later Hanoverians were busy contracting gout and having affairs with B-list actresses. Yet people are (allegedly) willing to pay 40 times more money for the British version: that’s what British soft power looks like.
In any case, the British citizens have already reconciled with the idea that money can buy you prestige or even immortality of a sort. You can buy the naming rights to about anything, from park benches to university chairs. Do not be surprised, because Oxford University has recently auctioned the naming rights to its newest college for £80 million, which will enable a lot of clever people to do clever things.
Another college, Linacre, will now be renamed for a cool £150 million, losing the name of the man who had once taught Greek to Erasmus, for that of the queen of Vietnamese discount airlines. However, the financing a lot of scholarships, is well underway.
Vanity has always been a powerful inducement for the wealthy to give away lots of money for good causes instead of hoarding their cash, and there is no reason the honors system should not operate on similar principles, in addition to honoring the conventionally worthy, of course.
Eventually, all this will land the British into an altogether different direction. The silver lining is — they may keep toying with the idea of selling ‘honors’ as corruption, and paradoxically, as a form of indirect taxation on human frailty. After all, the elitists and British ruling class, are entitled to their traditions and centuries old practices!