Many sincere congratulations to June Rixson, the Croydon lollipop lady whose public service was recognised yesterday when she was awarded the British Empire Medal in the Queen’s birthday honours.
Let’s just hope that Rixson and her school crossing patrol colleagues whose jobs are under threat as a result of council cut-backs (to save all of £60,000 a year – little more than is paid each year in “allowances” to the council leader Mike Fisher), get the real reward of not being made redundant from important jobs that oversees the safety of our schoolchildren on the borough’s busy roads every day.
The class-bound nature of the British Establishment is repeatedly underlined by the awards. It sums up the honours system neatly when Private Eye satirises the awards with its Order of the Brown Nose, or OBN, for services to arslikhan.
The BEM was dropped 20 years ago as much as anything for being a bit, well, “below stairs”, compared to the more “classy” OBEs and MBEs, never mind the peerages, knighthoods and dameships doled out twice annually.
This Conservative-led government reintroduced the BEM in 2012, apparently ignorant of the fact that the British Empire ceased to exist more than half a century ago, or of the potential offence such symbols of outdated imperialism might cause.
So while Rixson gets the BEM for her many years of selfless service to the community in a low-paid job, in the same round of awards, there is an OBE for Steve Reed for being leader of Lambeth Council for six years.
Last November, Reed was elected as MP for Croydon North.
And all that is clearly far more deserving of an OBE than a “mere” lollypop lady. Isn’t it?
There is a view that journalists ought never to accept any such honours. And there are many who believe that it is hypocritical for Labour party members to accept such baubles. Keith Hill, who was Reed’s own Streatham Hill MP until 2010, notably refused a tokenistic retirement knighthood in that year’s dissolution honours.
The laudable list of honours refuseniks is increasingly impressive. It now runs from George Bernard-Shaw to Danny Boyle, from David Bowie and John Cleese to Croydon’s Bill Nighy, to political figures such as Tony Benn and Winston Churchill (who preferred to remain a commoner, and so declined a peerage).
Sir Mick Jagger? Rock ‘n roll? Sir Baldrick? Some sort of joke?
In 1969, on several points of principle, John Lennon returned his gong with this note: “I am returning this MBE in protest against Britain’s involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam, and against Cold Turkey slipping down the charts.”
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