Friday 12th June saw the Queen’s Birthday Honours list published – a festival of self-congratulatory propaganda on the part of the British Establishment, which this year saw 1,163 people nominated. Notably amongst those on the list are a whole host of Tory donors and capitalist fat-cats – all rewarded by the Establishment for services rendered.
Friday 12th June saw the Queen’s Birthday Honours list published – a festival of self-congratulatory propaganda on the part of the British Establishment, which this year saw 1,163 people nominated.
According to the British government, the honours system is used to recognise those who have ‘made achievements in public life’ or those who have ‘committed themselves to serving and helping Britain’. Whilst some of those nominated may have helped ordinary people in their local communities, a better way of describing the whole charade would be to replace the word ‘Britain’ with ‘British capitalism’. For if the rich and wealthy individuals at the top of the Honours list were truly committed to ‘helping Britain’, they would be fighting to abolish capitalism – the anarchic system that forces workers from across the world to compete, resulting in a global race to the bottom of cuts to wages, jobs, and living standards.
A reward for services rendered
Of course, it should come as no surprise that revolutionaries will not be expecting a trip to Buckingham Palace to receive any awards. Indeed, these awards are presented by the Queen, with an estimated worth of £275 million in 2010 according to Forbes magazine. Whilst she hands out these Honours, perched atop her golden throne, it is unlikely that she will be rewarding those who are fighting for a change to a more equal society.
As Marx argued, it is your social position in society that shapes your consciousness; and so the leading members of the ruling class and its representatives, including the Queen and the careerist politicians in government, are only ever likely to reward those who strengthen and uphold the capitalist system – the very system that benefits them. For the rich and wealthy, the defence of the capitalist system is at the same time the defence of their social position. And so we see that Honours are, for many of its recipients, medals that have been awarded due to their contribution in the class war on the side of the capitalists.
Indeed, included on the Honours list is Henry Angest, a true hero of the capitalist class. According to the Independent, this friend of David Cameron ‘channelled almost £7m to the Tories in loans and donations in the past decade’. What is an even more fantastic crime than this, however, is the source of this man’s great wealth. Angest owns the high-cost credit company, ‘Everyday Loans’, which charges 74% APR. There are not many clearer examples of the transfer of wealth and power from labour to capital. This is a man who sells loans to vulnerable individuals because he has hoarded a great deal himself, and then channels much of the profits to his friends in the Conservative Party. This is an organised and intelligent Robin Hood of the rich who has a clear class-consciousness; and, again, the British state has rewarded him for these actions.
But Angest is not the only Tory donor on the Honours list – a list that is littered with such similar fat-cat bankers and bosses, who are paying back to the party of the rich that has helped them and the rest of the capitalist class in accumulating sizeable sums at the expense of workers and the poor. Elsewhere on the list we see: a knighthood for Sir Mick Davis, former chief of mining corporation Xstrata and donor of £1.47m to the Conservatives; a CBE for Jeremy Isaacs, former chief exec at Lehman Brothers (before its collapse) and Tory donor of more than £400,000; and a CBE for Rory Brooks, head of finance firm MML Capital and contributor of over £300,000 to the Tories.
The aristocracy of labour
More surprising than these rewards to the rich for their services rendered to the capitalist system is the knighthood awarded to the General Secretary of the GMB, Paul Kenny. Why would a man who has traditionally been viewed as being a left-wing union leader accept an honour from the Queen?
Whilst Kenny has at times come out with militant rhetoric against the government and their austerity, such words have not as yet been accompanied by equally militant action. As Trotsky argued, in its age of senile decay, capitalism is only able to maintain itself by lowering the standard of living of the working class. As a result, the trade unions begin to approach a crossroads: either they transform themselves into revolutionary organisations, or they will end up – consciously or unconsciously – maintaining the system that forces such attacks on workers.
Such Honours, therefore, are an attempt to ingratiate the leaders of the labour movement – the “aristocracy of labour” – into the Establishment, so that they too will act to maintain the capitalist system.
Kenny’s knighthood is yet another demonstration of how out of touch some of the leaders of the labour movement are from the lives of their members and of ordinary working people in general. Indeed, (Sir) Kenny himself received a salary of £127,000 in 2013, at the same time as many of his members were living on as little as £7,000 plus tax credits.
Why can Kenny – as an elected representative of the workers’ movement – not live off of a worker’s wage? This would surely make him both more in touch with the people he is meant to represent and more militantly determined in his fight to improve the lives of his members.
Unfortunately, however, many of the union leaders have accepted capitalism as an ever-enduring system, restricting themselves, at best, to fighting for small piecemeal reforms that capitalism in crisis cannot offer, and, at worse, to a fruitless defence of hard-won gains of the past that the senile capitalism system can no longer afford.
The hypocrisy of Honours
The sheer hypocrisy of some of the awards would be hilarious if it was not real. One such example is that of the friendly Simon Hughes, unceremoniously removed as an MP in the last election due to his party’s betrayal of the electorate by propping up the Tory government.
This former Lib-Dem MP was given the award for ‘public and political service’ after a long career in politics. However, Mr Hughes first became an MP after winning a by-election in Bermondsey in 1983 against the gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell. The campaign, run by the Liberal Democrats, involved Mr Hughes being described as the ‘straight choice’ and male canvassers wearing badges bearing the slogan ‘I’ve been kissed by Peter Tatchell’. The story becomes all the more awful when it is considered that Simon Hughes has now come out as bisexual.
How indicative of the moral compass of the ruling class to reward a man such as this with a knighthood. Simon Hughes thus represents a true careerist politician, willing to employ homophobic slurs in a desperate, greedy attempt to seize a glimmer of power.
Members of the ruling class often like to shower those who engage in charity – an attempt to plaster over capitalisms open wounds – with huge respect, a fact evident in the latest round of honours.
Among many who were nominated for charitable work is the comedian Lenny Henry, who co-founded Comic Relief. Whilst this work is certainly admirable, Comic Relief has existed since 1985 and poverty can hardly be described as approaching extinction. Indeed, Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s ‘Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion 2014’ showed that working age poverty is as high as it has ever been.
Charity has existed for as long as anyone can remember and it has not eliminated poverty. It is clear that the only way to eliminate poverty is to abolish its structural cause, namely capitalism.
The irony in this case is that, whilst providing such individuals with honours for charity implies that the honours system rewards those who fight to abolish poverty, those who actually fight to abolish poverty once-and-for-all – by abolishing capitalism itself – are attacked and repressed by the state.
That is why the honours system is such a blatant hypocrisy. On the one hand, it rewards kind-hearted individuals, such as Lenny Henry, who engage in altruistic acts; but, on the other hand, it rewards those individuals who maintain the capitalist system and cause poverty, oppression, and exploitation in the first place, such as Henry Angest and his other Tory chums.
The true task of any developed society should be to abolish the conditions that make charity necessary. It is not enough to merely congratulate those who help others in need. What must be done is to abolish the causes of this need – and that means sweeping capitalism into the dustbin of history, where it belongs, and fighting for the revolutionary socialist transformation of society.