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Why the hell hasn’t the honours list been scrapped already?

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Sam Musguin-Rowe
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Another day, another honours scandal. 

Fresh from calls to strip BHS' billionaire ex-boss Sir Phillip Green of his knighthood, it seems that right before he got evicted from Downing Street, David Cameron (remember him?) turned the honours list into his own personal back-slap-system.

But no, no, we're sure Isabel Spearman - Samantha Cameron's personal stylist whose wage came from taxpayers' wallets - deserves her OBE. Ditto the cabinet ministers, Tory donors and Remain supporters also in line for gongs. That they're all pally with Big Dave is mere coincidence, right?

It's like when the Conservatives' election mastermind Lynton Crosby (aka 'The Lizard of Oz') scored a knighthood earlier this year, or that time Cameron's barber was bestowed a MBE for (we're not making this up) "services to hairdressing". Total fluke. 

Except, of course it isn't. 

Stretching right back to Norman times, honours were historically bestowed for wartime bravery or to monied aristocrats. In 1917 George V invented the Order of the British Empire to honour everyday citizens, particularly those in non-combative roles during World War One. Honours for celebrities followed - with droves of recipients returning their medals in protest to The Beatles being awarded MBEs in 1965. 

Now, Queen's Honours are dished out twice a year - to approximately 3,000 people in total - yet rarely is a list published without the strong whiff of dodgy dealings.

And just like David Lloyd George in the 1920s, Harold Wilson in the '70s and Tony Blair's 'Cash for Honours' embarrassment in the mid-Noughties, David Cameron has become another outgoing PM caught with his fingers in the till - whoring out the Queen's Honours for personal gain.

 It begs the question: is it time our honours system was chucked in the Great British bin?

Human rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell

Absolutely, claims human rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell, who told ShortList: "No one deserves an honour for doing their day job," says Tatchell, who has declined honours on more than one occasion. 

"Under the current system, the elite rewards the elite, with the rich and powerful giving honours to the rich and powerful," he adds. "They often know each other and nominate each other. Too many recipients are donors to political parties. This is tantamount to nepotism and corruption.

"They have done nothing exceptional. Giving them honours is an insult to the many ordinary people who have made great personal sacrifices to help uplift their local communities and support good causes. It looks like favouritism and brings the honours system into disrepute."

Mark Llewellyn-Slade, founder of Awards Intelligence

And yet. According to Mark Llewellyn-Slade, these ordinary yet exceptional people are the very reason our honours system should be not just preserved, but treasured. CEO of Awards Intelligence - a company that drafts nominations for worthy Queen's Honour candidates - Llewellyn-Slade strives to ensure any corruption cries are drowned in a sea of charity workers, entrepreneurs and everyday heroes that go beyond the call of duty. 

"It’s about helping people, and making the honours system accessible to as many people as possible," he says.

Amid the dealings of 'Dodgy Dave', and widespread calls for abolition of the creaking honours system, Llewellyn-Slade urges calm.

"Let’s keep this in perspective," he says. "We are talking about less than 50 people on the Resignation Honours List and around 2,500 honours are given out each year."

Given new Prime Minister Theresa May has vowed to keep her hands off David Cameron's exit honours, it seems the latest batch of Knights, Dames and OBEs are safe. For now. As for the future, we could certainly get on board with Peter Tatchell's bright idea for the honours system.

"Reform and rename it," he says. "Limit awards to people who show great bravery and to those who do decades of unpaid volunteer and charity work."

Your move, Mrs May/Your Maj.

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Sam Musguin-Rowe

Sam Rowe is a British freelance journalist and writer, based in London. Specialising in lifestyle and investigative journalism, Sam contributes features to a wide variety of magazines, newspapers and websites around the globe. Reporting for ShortList, Sam has met bikers fighting ISIS in Syria, computer hackers, World Cup winners, Arctic Monkeys, and the finest Donkey Kong players on the planet. Follow Sam on Twitter: @samrowe_

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