Grant Woodward: Cameron's list must be nail in honours system's coffin

Isabel Spearman gets an OBE for making sure Sam Cam's colours don't clash. Wasn't her £60,000 salary reward enough?

Thursday, 4th August 2016, 6:00 am
Updated Thursday, 25th August 2016, 8:47 pm
Samantha Cameron's stylist Isabel Spearman, right, has been nominated for an OBE in the former PMs honours list. Credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

“WHEN I want a peerage, I will buy one like an honest man.”

Even for an early 20th century newspaper owner, you have to say Alfred Harmsworth was a bit of a cynic.

And his cutting critique of the honours system was also completely wide of the mark – as David Cameron proved this week.

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Of course you don’t have to donate millions to a politician’s campaign to get a gong!

You can also bag one by choosing the Prime Minister’s wife’s clothes – as shown by the OBE for Sam Cam’s stylist.

Then there’s the CBE for Will Straw, who just so happened to be director of the Remain campaign during the EU referendum. Presumably the one for Leaver Boris got lost in the post.

Dave’s wingman George Osborne, meanwhile, will join the likes of Stephen Hawking and Desmond Tutu as a Companion of Honour – the reward created by George V to recognise services of “national importance”, which I’m sure you’ll agree describes George’s contribution to a T.

In fact, the only surprise absence from this list of aides, donors, family friends and political cronies is Downing Street pet Larry the Cat.

Isn’t it bone-crushingly depressing that a country supposed to be a beacon of democracy is still stuck with a discredited honours system in the 21st century?

It was all meant to have changed 40 years ago – after departing PM Harold Wilson came up with a list filled with more crooks than your average wing at Armley nick.

The infamous ‘Lavender List’ included Wilson’s friend and textile magnate Joseph Kagan. Wilson wore Kagan’s raincoats and made him a life peer. A few years later he was behind bars for stealing from his own companies.

Another recipient, tycoon Eric Miller, blew his brains out as the police were coming to arrest him over the same offence.

Lord Brayley – given a peerage by Wilson a few years earlier – died while awaiting trial at the Old Bailey on charges of conspiracy to defraud.

As personal secretary to Mary Wilson, Peggy Field’s principal duties were to type up the poems and ditties penned by the prime minister’s wife. She got an MBE – not unlike the reward given to Isabel Spearman for making sure Sam Cam’s colours don’t clash.

Personally, I’d have thought Spearman’s £60,000 a year salary – funded by us taxpayers, natch – would be reward enough.

In fact, that goes for just about everyone on Cameron’s list. If you’re getting paid to do a job that comes with a decent salary and doesn’t involve sorting world peace then I’m not sure a gong is warranted.

As far as the politicians on the list are concerned, isn’t the whole idea of entering politics to serve the public? Why should they get a shiny bauble on top?

Because the trouble with handing out honours like sweeties is that it devalues the entire system.

It means that MBE for the local cub scout leader or youth club organiser who’s given up their time for nowt over countless decades to help kids in their community suddenly doesn’t count for quite as much.

That’s not just sad, it’s downright criminal. These are the very individuals who the honours system should be about giving some much deserved recognition to.

Every time this happens – and just about every PM I can remember has been guilty of it – hands are wrung, some sort of committee is formed and absolutely nothing gets done about it.

Nor are the Queen’s Birthday Honours, chosen by a special committee, much better. They’re stuffed full of civil servants, celebrities and party donors.

So how about this for a solution? If you’ve given anything above £1,000 to a political party, you can’t be nominated.

Same applies if you pick up a salary that comes out of the pockets of the country’s taxpayers.

That way, this disgraceful chumocracy would soon be banished to the pages of history.

Self-scan tills sending me off my trolley

SO not only do self-service checkouts make you want to rip off your own arm just to have something to beat them with, they’re also turning us into a nation of thieves.

Criminology professor Adrian Beck says his research shows self-scanning leads some to take a few liberties on their weekly shop.

Supermarket managers told him normally honest people give into temptation when left to scan their own shopping and end up bagging stuff they haven’t paid for.

I may have forgotten to put through one or two 5p bags in my time but nothing more.

I’ve seen plenty of others do it though, including a couple of shifty-looking blokes who I spotted taking bar codes off stuff in the reduced aisle and sticking them on prime slabs of meat.

It’s obvious why supermarket chains like these machines. They cut down on their biggest expense – staff.

But it’s misery for us honest shoppers when we have to keep calling over the poor assistant who’s monitoring eight of the damned things.

The other day at Asda she needed to sort out my machine so many times she ended up staying put until it all went through. It took so long two people with far bigger trollies had gone through the manned till.

But the biggest bugbear with self-scan machines is that they’re putting people out of a job. So wherever possible, how about we just start boycotting them?

Duke sounds a moat of caution

VIOLINS at the ready please for Ralph Percy – otherwise known as the Duke of Northumberland.

You might think that after inheriting a £350m fortune, 100,000 acres of land and his very own castle, Ralph would be a happy chappy.

Not a bit of it. Turns out that after allowing Alnwick Castle to feature in the Harry Potter films (which I suspect pocketed him a quid or two), Joe Public turned up wanting a look round, paying £40 a pop for a family ticket.

“We couldn’t get in or out without going through crowds,” Percy whined this week. “And because we lived in the keep, there were no private gardens, so the children ended up staying inside the whole time.”

It reminds me of that old Friends episode where Joey was having woman issues. “Oh, I know, this must be so hard,” snapped Chandler. “‘Two women love me. They’re both gorgeous and sexy. My wallet’s too small for my fifties and my diamond shows are too tight’.”