Queen’s advisers tell her to drop ’empire’ from honours as it’s ‘inappropriate’ in post-imperial Britain
By Ian Drury
PUBLISHED: 11:27, 6 May 2012 | UPDATED: 22:58, 6 May 2012
For almost 100 years, they have been awarded to recognise exceptional achievement and service to Britain.
Huge numbers of people, from the famous to the unsung community volunteer, have been delighted to receive CBEs, OBEs and MBEs.
But in what would be another nail in the coffin of the country’s proud traditions, the Queen’s advisers want to ditch the word Empire from our medals.
The Lord Lieutenants, the pillars of the establishment who advise the monarch on who should be awarded honours, believe the word is ‘anachronistic and inappropriate’. There was deep ‘unease’ at its continued use because of its links to British colonial history and class, they said.
Critics, however, believe that removing the word from the honours instituted by King George V in 1917 is politically correct meddling.
The issue was discussed in Parliament by the Lord Lieutenants of Cheshire, Cumbria and Clackmannanshire after David Cameron announced plans to reintroduce the British Empire Medal to reward people who do voluntary work.
Their surprise views were made known during a Commons public administration committee meeting examining the decision to bring back the BEM, which was abolished by John Major in 1992 during his ill-fated drive towards a ‘classless society’.
George Reid, Lord Lieutenant of Clackmannanshire, told the committee there was ‘unease about the use of the word Empire in honours awards’.
He added: ‘One local resident of ethnic origin, whose family came from a former colony, said he could never accept an honour “named after a system his family had fought to abolish”.’
David Briggs, Lord Lieutenant of Cheshire, said it was an ‘unfortunate’ title because it was ‘associated with “class”, which we all want to get rid of’. He added: ‘It seems inappropriate in 2012 to bring back an award containing Empire.’
Sir James Cropper, Lord Lieutenant of Cumbria, suggested there should instead be a ‘title more meaningful for the present times’ such as the Queen’s Commonwealth Medal.
Oliver Heald, a Tory member of the Commons committee on standards in public life, said he would not support a change to awards already in use. He said: ‘We are entitled to be proud of our history.’
A Buckingham Palace spokesman said: ‘This is a matter for the Lord Lieutenants.’