1089 MBE? Bob Holman says it all…

Thanks to Dave Wiles…

Bob Holman has long been a hero and friend of mine… Below, in his article, he says why he said no to an MBE. To the point as always, Bob’s reasoning and ideology behind it does it for me and is the kind of reason i have always held him in such very high regard. (Btw. I hope he doesn’t see this… I’d hate to embarrass him.) :-)  The article is from The Guardian newspaper…

In April, I declined an MBE (Member of the British Empire) in the forthcoming Queen’s birthday honours list. In refusing an award, I followed in the footsteps of more important people than myself, including the late professor Peter Townsend.

The danger is that in writing about my reasons for doing so, I will come over as an inverted snob: “I am more radical than thou.” But that isn’t my intention. I decided to write about rejecting the MBE for two reasons. One is that I want to thank and explain my reasons to the unknown people who nominated me. Second, perhaps it will encourage others to do the same.

The honours are bestowed by the monarchy. As a democrat, I am opposed to a queen and other royals who wield great public influence in spite of never having been elected. Yes, the queen has displayed dignity and upheld certain moral values, but the one who succeeds her because of biological inheritance may be very different.

The nature of the royal influence is rarely questioned. The princes usually enlist in the armed forces and so identify with Britain’s aggressive wars. It is unthinkable for any member of the royal family to be a pacifist.
The royals possess enormous riches. The queen’s personal fortune is estimated at £310m, plus possessions valued in billions. The state supports her with an annual £32m. Yet at the very time her jubilee is being celebrated at huge cost, the poor are getting poorer, the unemployed more numerous, the gap between those at the bottom and those at the top wider. Every week, the Trussell Trust opens more centres to distribute food parcels. I have met several families who can no longer afford to send their children on holiday.
The unelected monarchy reinforces and sanctions inequality. The BBC and most of the press pour undiluted praise on the royals while imposing a virtual gag on the views of republicans. No senior politician has the courage to question the continuation of the monarchy. Taking a gong or title is an expression of support for the royals.

My proposed MBE was “for services to the community in Easterhouse, Glasgow”. Last week, I was at a community project called Family Action in Rogerfield & Easterhouse (Fare), which I helped to start 22 years ago. Serving at the cafe was a man who has been a volunteer since the start. He cannot manage paid employment but his loyalty is such that he has been elected to Fare’s board of directors. Another long-term helper works six days a week as a security guard on minimum wage. He takes one holiday a year and joins the under-canvas camp where he toils as a cook. Fare’s grants have been cut – so much for the “big society” – and three staff were to be made redundant. The rest of the workers, nearly all local residents, agreed to a 7% cut in their own modest incomes so that the three could be kept on. And many more. Why should I get a royal reward for services to Easterhouse and not them?

I am an egalitarian. I believe that a socially and materially equal society is more united, content and just. The royal honours system is designed to promote differences of status. It is made clear that those who are made knights or dames are socially superior to those given CBEs, OBEs or MBEs. But all are socially above those without honours. These imposed differences hinder the co-operation, interaction and fellowship, which are the characteristics of equality. Refusing a royal honour is a small step but one in the right direction.

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About jonbirch

animator, illustrator, character designer, graphic designer. music producer/recording musician. co-owner of PROOST. proost.co.uk
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22 Responses to 1089 MBE? Bob Holman says it all…

  1. dave119 says:

    I was at a large debate on the monarchy (Greenbelt) with Bob and several pro monarchists – Bob’s argument for a UK Republic to be established was clear, convincing and spot on… in my opinion! At the end of the debate someone accepted that we needed a republic and nominated Bob as its first President – I second that motion!!!! :)

  2. jonbirch says:

    All in favour say ‘Aye!’… ‘AYE!!!’ :-)

  3. Thought provoking. Thanks

  4. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    A heartfelt speech indeed and I have no problem with his reasons for turning down the award, but I must raise a couple of points. It’s possible that because of the perceived increase in status that an M.B.E. carries, he may have found doors open to him that were previously closed, and behind those doors may have been ways of better helping his community. Unlikely, but possible. Alternatively, he could have accepted, then shown his feelings by publically selling the medal to raise funds for his causes. But by that I’m not for a second doubting his principles, these are, after all, minor points.
    My main point, and a more serious one, is a reminder that the grass isn’t necessarily greener anywhere else. Before we all rush out into the streets Bastille-style, it would be wise to consider whether we would be better off as a republic. I’ve no particular love of inherited privilege, but our system of democratic election of the government, with the monarchy remaining as figurehead, has served us well enough since a certain Mr. Cromwell found his puritan-republic dreams in tatters.
    It would be a mistake to think that a republic brings equality. It may do in name, but history tells us different. Can you honestly say that there is equality in that great republic, the U.S.A? Or that life in the old USSR and GDR, or in the current People’s Republic of China or the Republic of North Korea, is preferable to what we currently have? Republics are always wonderful in theory, but the reality is not always so desirable. Governments the world over are run almost exclusively by self-serving hypocrites; the main differences between republics and democratic government of the people with monarchial figureheads, is that in republics the privilege is generally reserved only for the very elite, whilst the vast majority of the populace are seen as little more than robots, with every aspect of their lives controlled by the ruling elite; whereas, in Britain, for example, it is still a very small percentage of the population that can genuinely be classed as under-privilaged; our welfare system at least ensures that nobody has to starve, except for those poor few in the most dire of circumstances, and if that system is now being eroded away, well that’s the fault of the government and the House of Lords. Remember, under our constitution her Maj has no voice in the making of government policy. She can express no political leaning, nor make – or even suggest – changes to policy or personnel. That’s the agreement Charles II had to make with Parliament before they would sanction the restoration of the monarchy, and it’s that agreement that ensures the continuation of our own brand of democracy. If we think that we are being failed, that’s not the fault of royalty. The blame lies squarely at our own feet. We do, after all, continue to vote the wrong people into power. Maybe it’s just the British way; at least if we elect idiots, we’ve got something to moan about.
    In my opinion, if people feel so strongly about the issue, rather than bleating on about removing the privilage and stamping their feet with impotent rage, why don’t they try doing what our constitution allows and get themselves in a position to be elected to a position where they can do something about it.

  5. Dave119 says:

    Hi AOS. Couple of responses re Bob rather than in depth engagement re political, social, historical debate re republics v monarchy – which I’d rather do over a beer!! Bob doesn’t blog so just to offer a few comments about him. Bob’s status and standing is pretty well established – ex professor turned community worker, 20 odd books, national speaker/writer etc. He has done pretty well opening doors for himself and others! Eg see his work in Southdown and Easterhouse Don’t think his conscience would have allowed him to accept and sell the medal and think by writing about it (incidentally the article Jon quotes was in the Guardian) he has achieved as much by raising the issue in this way. He has also been pretty effective within the political system in expressing his views and defending people who are poor (life long labour member until ‘new’ labour) – eg his role in establishing social justice committee with ID Smith, which was well documented – so he is not one of the ‘bleaters’ you refer to. Bob chose a path of influence via community work rather than political election – but he would get my vote for president any day!! All the best. Dave

  6. jonbirch says:

    hey there AOS… the man is an inspiration. massive change has occurred for the better in tangible, rock solid ways for the poorest wherever he has rolled up his sleeves and shared out the tools. he is a hard working labourer for social justice and well-being. southdown changed beyond recognition as a direct result of his influence and the same is true of easterhouse… though still an under resourced area, once down trodden people are serving each other to make a better life for all, more empowered and confident than before. he joined in with the good work he identified that others were doing already, enabling and using his influence over those in political authority wherever possible. community banking, resources for play, community engagement, the list is endless. he is the least attention seeking man you could wish for who has helped communities in ways that centralised politics never has or could. he is a team player who would never see himself as anything other than a servant. he has, for decades now, been a thorn in the side and a nagging at the conscience of the political elite which is a matter of record. the bbc and other media will always interview bob when an issue of social justice is discussed or proposed in parliament… he is loving and pragmatic. he is and has always been a voice of conscience, standing up for the very poorest, whilst putting his life where his mouth is. a truly ‘human’ human being. a better man than i. i feel very blessed that he has been my friend… he has left an indelible mark on my life and i love him for it… i suspect/know many others would say the same.
    as dave said, there is no way his conscience would have ever let him take an award of this nature, it goes against everything he stands for. and btw, bob could no more ‘bleat’ than a lion could. :-)

  7. jonbirch says:

    btw… bob has never needed any help opening doors, he generally walks right in. to walk into the room with an award of this nature pinned to his chest would say exactly what he wouldn’t want to say in a million years. that’s real integrity.

  8. soniamain says:

    What I admire about Bob is he is a man of principles but he doesn’t shove them down your throat!. As Dave and Jon have both commented his work / life has been inspirational and he is very highly regarded amongst academics, politicians but more importantly the communities that he has lived in. I guess that is the point, he lives in the community and is part of the community, that has always been an important principle for Bob, how could he still live and be part of the community with an award that makes him ‘better than others’ ?

  9. lanceleuven says:

    Well fair play to the guy. A very well argued position that I can’t help but agree with wholeheartedly.

    (“bob could no more ‘bleat’ than a lion could”- Excellent!)

  10. Goodfield says:

    Thought we already were a bannana republic! :-)

  11. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    I seeem to have been slightly misunderstood, purely my own fault of course, but in my defence the final line of my first paragraph was “But by that I’m not for a second doubting his principles, these are, after all, minor points.”
    I’m still not sure that he did the right thing by refusing the award, which was after all to be given in recognition of the work he’s done. Does anybody know if he canvassed those he has helped and worked with, to ask their views on the matter. I know that if I was one of those he’s worked for, I’d be more than happy to see him gain some official recognition, not on behalf of the establishment but on behalf of those he’s helped. But even if I don’t necessarily agree with his actions, I can’t fault his principalled stance.

    The comment re ‘bleating’ wasn’t aimed at Bob, but more at all those anti-monarchy pub bores who sit around moaning without actually doing anything, much less thinking through the implications of their desires. Is it an old Chinese proverb that says “Be careful what you wish for; it may just come true”?

    So, my apologies for the misunderstanding.

  12. dave119 says:

    No apology necessary AOS as far as I’m concerned – discourse is one of the reasons I love blogs – especially ASBO!! Think I wanted to say what a great guy Bob was as he didn’t have a voice here. Like the Chinese proverb… but am a fan of Saul Alinsky too who said – ‘never believe your own rhetoric’!

  13. jonbirch says:

    or groucho, who said something along the lines of not joining a club that would have him as a member. :-)
    AoS… i really enjoyed writing a paragraph on how much i love bob… + i didn’t find what you said in the least bit offensive. so no apologies necessary on my part either. :-)

  14. subo says:

    cheers Jon, for reporting this, it’s very moving reading Bob’s tale here. curiously I think it’s a gift, to be able to see ourselves as a brother/sister hood, and that God calls us to belong. we live in a world striving for recognition and status, and yet we can only ever be heirs of the Kingdom of God. perhaps this leaves me taking a different view of monarchy to the comments here, simply because in my life time, I’ve not seen any ‘elected leaders’ care and address the needs of the community. Sadly I feel more supported by Prince Charles with his mumbling on global warming and commitment to the princes trust projects for young people, than I do by David Cameron & co. – who seem hell bent on pushing young people to the wall!. however, Bob, I am inspired by your decision to turn down the M.B.E., and remain level with the rest of us, and value the long-standing relationships you’ve made with folk like the guy mentioned in your statement – ‘Serving at the cafe was a man who has been a volunteer since the start. He cannot manage paid employment but his loyalty is such that he has been elected to Fare’s board of directors.’ thanks for the inpsiration

  15. youthworkerpete says:

    I think Bob is obviously someone who has helped to change a lot of lives, sounds like a great man based on the comments here. So I just want to be very clear – I am not, in what I am about to say, trying to undermine him or any of his good works. I have a comment or two on his ideology as it is portrayed here, but absolutely not trying to even imply he may have made the wrong choice – because the choice was his to make and he did so for sound personal reasons.

    But, I thought I’d share why I probably would accept an award (which is entirely likely to be purely hypothetical):
    1. I like a party. I also like visiting London.
    2. Though the honour has the Queen’s name on it, it’s an award to recognise those who have done some good for society. I’m sure other countries have similar awards without the need for a monarchy, but it’s not like there’s an alternative. Just as Bob (or anyone else) couldn’t, on grounds of being a Republican, argue they shouldn’t be held at Her Majesty’s Pleasure after some heinous crime, nor could a Republican refuse to pay taxes until the taxman was no longer under Her Majesty’s employment. If you have to be in a monarchy, may as well enjoy some of the perks?
    3. The monarchy are people who are rich and powerful by birthright. Which seems wrong in a democratic age. But then, so is Peaches Geldof (in her own way), and George W Bush. So, compared to most of the world, are my children. I’m not sending them out to Uganda – I’m allowing them to have all the benefits afforded to them just because their parent’s happened to be British. The world’s not fair. Targeting one particular family isn’t going to change that.
    4. I see benefits of an unelected, consistent head of state, with very limited power. It provides a figurehead that is apolitical. It also means we are not fooled into believing we are a democratic system – I wonder which was the last American president to be elected without being very wealthy first? I wouldn’t mind being seen to support the queen because, actually, I think she does a pretty good job. I think there are plenty of other rich people who have done far less to deserve their wealth than she has.
    5. My Mum always said it was impolite to turn down a gift. Even if you didn’t like it very much.

  16. Dave119 says:

    Cheers Pete. Few thoughts on your thoughts….
    1 me too!! Hyde park and velvet underground was my best party in London !
    2. Bob has four honorary doctorates as well as the one he ‘earned’ at Uni. So he, nor I, would be against honouring individuals but he has used this experience to flag up his distaste for inequality and a commitment to an egalitarian world
    3. I agree and bob (and I to a lesser extent) would target inequality in all of it’s complex manifestations. We can’t allow birthright to determine things just per se – I quite like the biblical jubilee principle that has wealth moving around over time – though how to apply in a globalised context I will leave to brighter minds than mine!
    4. Good point. Not sure re Obama? But this is why I would nominate bob – he is working class and average income.
    5. My mum said never take anything from strangers!!! Jest – but sadly I wouldn’t want the gift from an estranged system that perpetuates inequality.

  17. Acolyte of Sagan says:

    A few more thoughts:
    1) If I hadn’t already promised to take my grandchildren to the British Science Museuem when they’re old enough to appreciate it, I’d be perfectly happy to live the rest of my life without visiting that awful city again. Even though I assume the warrant’s lapsed by now :-)
    2) Err, I covered that one earlier. No point in repetition, it’s enough to recognise that he at least has the courage of his convictions.
    3) The British royal family has in recent years undergone a massive finacial shake-up, and are currently run as a tax-paying corporation. It is estimated by some that they actually put around £200 million more into the coffers annually than they take out.. On the down side, changes that George Osborne – our Chancellor of the Exchequer who failed Economics at university and announced that reading a basic primer would see him through one of the most vital posts in government during a global financial crisis. No kidding! – announced in 2010 take effect next year, and will go a long way to reversing that situation. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_list .The system is far from perfect, and far from cheap, but it’s served us well thus far. If it ain’t broke, and all that.
    4) One of the problems with a republic is that it’s wide open for a disgruntled or over-ambitious General or two to take control of the military,and thus the country. Having the Queen as not only the national figurehead, but also Head of the Armed Forces, and it has to be said,one who still commands enormous respect of the majority of serving men and women, is a very real barrier to a military takeover. Quite simply, any General that steps out of line will be slapped down post-haste. II’ve heard it said that when a military swears allegience to a flag, it will follow whoever has control of that flag. When it swears allegiance to a monarch then defending that monarch is their first – and last – duty, so military uprisings are rarer in a monarchy; the rank and file won’t stand for it, and the one thing that an attempted military coup needs is the support of the military. I haven’t really looked into the truth of that, but it sounds at least a plausible hypothesis.
    5) Never look a gift horse in the mouth. Their breath stinks :-)

  18. Forrest says:

    This makes this from newspaper in Durango Colorado, kind of interesting.

    “Will Britain finally replace the House of Lords?

    Associated Press
    Article Last Updated: Wednesday, June 27, 2012 8:02am
    Can Britain’s government ditch the dukes, eject the earls and kick out the cronies?

    Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday set out ambitious plans to replace Britain’s 700-year-old House of Lords, the country’s unelected upper chamber, with a smaller, mostly elected body – taking on a task that has frustrated political leaders for decades.

    “We have been discussing this issue for 100 years and it really is time to make progress,” Cameron told legislators, hoping his government can succeed in stripping the country’s non-elected elites of a legislative role which has its roots in the 11th century.

    Like the United States, Germany and dozens of other nations, Britain sees a vital role for a second legislative chamber which carefully scrutinizes planned laws. But Cameron insists that those who carry out the task should be mainly elected – not appointed or born into their role.

    If passed by Parliament – which is not guaranteed – Britain would gradually introduce elected members at the next three national elections, completing the transformation to a new 462-seat chamber by 2025.


    The House of Lords is the upper chamber of Britain’s two-tiered Parliament – but wields far less power than the smaller and entirely elected House of Commons.

    While it can amend planned laws, the Lords has no role in creating legislation.

    The Commons can vote to overturn revisions made by peers, and – though it is rarely used – deploy a veto to allow legislation to be passed without the consent of the Lords, such as with a contentious 2005 ban on fox hunting.

    The upper chamber currently has about 775 working members, a mix of 660 political appointees, 89 hereditary peers – who inherited a place in the chamber from their nobleman forebears – and 26 people who hold ecclesiastical offices, like the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.

    Supporters insist its membership – which includes retired military commanders, surgeons, academics and spy chiefs – brings wide expertise to its role in scrutinizing suggested policy, a range of skills they claim won’t be matched in an elected chamber.

    Critics, however, point out that only Lesotho – the tiny African kingdom – has a political system similar to Britain, where a mixture of unelected and hereditary appointees can influence laws.


    Cameron’s plans would see the current House of Lords replaced by 360 directly elected members, 90 members with no affiliation to political parties who would be appointed by an independent committee, and 12 Church of England bishops. All remaining hereditary peers will be removed.

    A strict 15-year term limit will be imposed on those elected, unlike the current system when members are appointed for life.

    Voters would elect the first 120 members of the new House of Lords in May 2015, when Britain is scheduled to hold a national election. Another 120 would be elected at a planned 2020 national vote, and the final group five years later.


    The upper chamber’s powers have been gradually stripped away for the last 100 years.

    Most recently, the House of Lords ended its role as Britain’s highest court of appeal in 2009 when a new Supreme Court took over judicial work carried out by 12 members known as the Law Lords.

    Attempts to bring in election for members have previously won approval – most recently in a 2007 House of Commons vote – but reforms have been stalled by opposition in the Lords, competing priorities and worries over the possible cost.


    Already, Cameron is preparing for a fight and has warned peers that he will veto them if they attempt to stall the changes.

    Some legislators have complained that constitutional changes shouldn’t be a priority when Britain is suffering a recession and implementing a tough austerity program of 81 billion pounds ($130 billion) in government spending cuts.

    While the main opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband said he supports the plan, he may press for a public referendum on the changes – a tactic which could significantly delay any reforms.

    One hereditary peer, ex-government minister David Trefgarne, has even claimed that mere mortals have no right to meddle with the Lords.

    He suggested that because his seat in the House of Lords was granted to his ancestors by Britain’s monarch – once regarded as having won the right to rule directly from God – the privilege is one conferred by divine right.

    “The Almighty decided that I was to have a certain duty imposed upon me,” he told BBC radio.

  19. entirely elected House of Commons? who all went to school together

    intrigued by your post Forrest, an impressive level of knowledge, however it’s not a few dusty old peers who are running amuck with ordinary people’s lives in the uk, but those plucked from a tiny minority of ‘public school’ educated rich folk. please don’t take it personally, but I can’t not continue the discussion

    this group of people have been silently securing their privilege for generations, and have most of the power in Britain, with a few ordinary folk, who went to ordinary school breaking through, though less and less. this system is not democratic, is based on birth history and who you know, is not led by a commitment to support your fellow man, and many public leaders seem to have no knowledge of how hard their policy is making things for ordinary people

    somehow I feel worrying about who sits in the house of lords, ploughing through bills and papers, is a side issue to really looking at what’s happening to democracy and equality in the uk, we are broke and caught up in an impossible work life balance, crushing folks dreams and loosing our homes to repossession, whilst the rich public school educated ruling class fail to bring the bankers to book

    to me, whilst these problems are so widespread, reforming the house of lords is not about restoring democracy, but about keeping your own safe and presenting a front of democracy

    now I wonder what an elected group, with a 15 yr. term, including bishops, might want to do about this?, oh, go on then, bring on reform it might do more than you bargained for

  20. Sabio Lantz says:

    Wow – bravo! Like coming out gay, coming out and saying the monarchy should go away is brave and helpful. It gives others courage to say or think the same. Thanx.

  21. Duncan Bell says:

    Oh yes, let’s ditch the Monarchy and copy the USA. You too could have a wonderful leader like Obama.

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