I start this new year in something of a moral quandary – never a comfortable place to be, and particularly not when I have eaten industrial quantities of, well, everything. My dilemma springs from the New Years Honours list. I have learned to make my peace with giving gongs to those who make their living playing games and being paid handsomely for it, and then additionally get a mention for “services to” sport or acting. I’m not too happy about the incestuous habit of giving honours to MPs and other government bods – although it was interesting to learn that there is something called a GBE (Knights Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire). But what I am finding hard to swallow are those awards being termed the “New Leaf Honours” – given to people with dodgy pasts who have now made good. And what is worrying me is my response to two of them, as it highlights in neon my own prejudices.
The first is the OBE given to Christopher Preddie. A former gang member who sold cannabis until he was sixteen, Mr Preddie has turned his life around and now works with young offenders to help steer them away from a life of crime. What marvellous work, I thought – how brave of this man to turn his back on the familiar life and use his own experience to help others. The second is the CBE given to Gerald Ronson. Mr Ronson was fined £5 million and sent to prison in 1990 for his part in the Guinness share trading fraud. Since his release, he has devoted much time to charitable endeavours and is described in the honours list as a philanthropist. Did I think, what marvellous work, etc.? I did not. I thought: “How dare they honour a man who cheated and stole, who deceived those who worked with him and for him, and those who invested with him!”
So some crimes can be forgiven and some cannot – we all have our own rankings, and the gongs have certainly revealed mine.