Not Saussure

November 23, 2006

Sale of honours inquiry … a diversion from The War on Terror

Filed under: scams — notsaussure @ 2:54 pm

As A Big Stick And A Small Carrot notes, Frank Field’s declaration that, yes, the government has been breaking the law, but they all do it and it’s time to move on, really is a bit off, though sadly unsurprising.

Mr Field, though, probably deserves some sort of gong for this bit of brass neck, particularly for managing to drag in the threat of terrorism:

”The amount of police effort being expended on this is ridiculous. These police officers would be doing a much better public service if they were put to work trying to stop innocent people being blown up by terrorists.

“The police investigation is utterly out of proportion. There was no complaint made to the police by a party leader. It was just a publicity stunt but the police bit and they should not have done so.”

Note to Mr Field; on being apprehended for any alleged offence, no matter how minor, do not, under any circumstances, say to the nice police officer, ‘What a waste of public money! Why don’t you go and catch some real criminals for a change?’ You will regret it if you do.

Matthew Parris got it almost right, I think, in The Times a couple of days ago;

Downing Street seems to have said in its heart: “Hey, let’s get real; newspaper editors and their readers are not kids; they know the score already; we need the dosh; why should we pussyfoot around?”

The British Establishment dislikes nothing more than those who blurt out loud what everybody knows but prefers to leave unsaid. It embarrasses people. Parvenus such as Mr Blair, who think to join the Establishment while elbowing aside the delicate web of hypocrisies, deferences and understandings that support it, infuriate the old guard.

“Hypocrisy”, said François, Duc de la Rochefoucauld, “is the homage vice pays to virtue.” On the sale of honours, the Establishment’s message to Downing Street is becoming clear: a little more hypocrisy, please, gentlemen.

Almost right. I think, though, the ZaNu-Labour fixers deserve more condemnation than that. Hypocrisy, at least in this context, imposes a degree of self-restraint on government; while we know that corners sometimes have to be cut and rules to be bent, this shower seem to have concluded that the corners and rules don’t apply any more. The fact that governments have, doubtless, always given honours for favours — a much less damaging way of rewarding them, after all, than the American custom of rewarding supporters with diplomatic posts, thus saddling them and us with the late Walter Annenberg as US Ambassador to The Court of St James for a while — is no excuse for a government so blatantly to break the law and express surprise when people object. It’s exactly the same cavalier attitude that lands successive Home Secretaries in conflict with judges who just don’t get it, thus also hampering efforts ‘to stop innocent people being blown up by terrorists’ when the Home Secretary wants to ignore the law of the land.

If you’re going to sell honours, then there’s a perfectly respectable precedent for doing it legally. Sell baronetcies, which were invented as a sort of hereditary knighthood by James I & IV for precisely that purpose. According to Wikipedia, James

offered the dignity to 200 gentlemen of good birth, with a clear estate of £1,000 a year, on condition that each one should pay a sum equivalent to three years’ pay to 30 soldiers at 8d per day per man into the King’s Exchequer. The idea came from the Earl of Salisbury, who averred: “The Honour will do the Gentry very little Harm,” while doing the Exchequer a lot of good.

So that’s £1 a day for three years, or £1,095. That’s, apparently, a surprisingly moderate £162,261.04, adjusted for RPI inflation. I don’t understand Army pay scales, but apparently a Private ‘Level 1’ earns £39.24 a day, so that’s £1,172.20 a day for 30 of them, or £1,289,034 for the three years. That’s possibly more realistic, though the fact you’d share a title and rank with Sir Mark Thatcher might be a bit of a drag on the market.

Certainly, I think no one could disagree with the proposition that paying the salaries of 30 squaddies for three years is a great deal more meritorious than funding the people who send them off, ill-equipped with cut-price ammo that jams, to fight in Afghanistan.

The last word on the subject, though, should go to the Countess of Mar, Madam Deputy Speaker in the Lords and holder of the oldest title in Scotland, quoted in The Times a few months ago:

“I think it is accepted among peers that some have bought their peerages,” she says casually, “although that has probably always been the case. Where it has gone to the dogs in the last 10 years is we have got a lot of people who have lost an election (to the Commons). Why should we get the dross?”

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