Offensive Empire honours titles must go, says Labours Kate Green

Offensive Empire honours titles must go, says Labours Kate Green

Honours titles associated with the British Empire are “offensive and divisive” and should be rebranded, a senior Labour MP has told the BBC.

Kate Green, who got an OBE in 2015, told the Political Thinking podcast it gave people “huge pleasure” to have their achievements recognised.

But the shadow education secretary said honours were hierarchical and the link to Empire was “hurtful to people”.

“You can’t justify that branding,” she told host Nick Robinson.

Orders of the British Empire – the CBE, OBE and MBE – were first awarded during World War One to recognise the contribution of civilians to the war effort and the actions of service personnel in support positions.

They are now awarded for outstanding achievements in different fields at either a national or local level.

The British Empire Medal, awarded for significant community service, was revived in 2012, having been scrapped in 1993.

Some Labour MPs have previous called for the word “empire” to be replaced by “excellence” in honours awarded by the Queen.

Ms Green told the BBC’s Nick Robinson she had thought hard before accepting a OBE for her work in helping children as director of the Child Poverty Action Group before she entered Parliament.

She said she decided to take the honour because it “thrilled” her father.

While honours were a valuable way of celebrating people’s contributions to their community or country, she added, their association with the economic and racial injustices of the British Empire was not defensible.

“It’s really the wrong language. It’s divisive, it’s offensive and hurtful to people.

“One of the things I’ve been looking at a lot in recent weeks is the black curriculum campaign and decolonising our history and the whole curriculum. You can’t excuse or justify that branding.”

She said issues with the way in which honours were handed out ran “deeper” than just the titles and a “lot more reform was needed” of the secretive system.

Members of the public can nominate people for honours, but critics say the committees that make the final decisions are not representative of society as a whole and awards for political service make a mockery of the system.

Boris Johnson, Theresa May, David Cameron and Tony Blair have all been criticised for using the honours system to reward political allies and people who have give money to their parties.

“I know many efforts have been made to democratise and open up that honours system but it’s still pretty hierarchical of who gets what,” she said.

In her interview, Ms Green, a founder member of the Labour Against Private Schools campaign, said she was in favour of abolishing fee-paying schools but recognised it would not be a “top priority” for a future Labour government.

“I’m far more interested in the 93% of kids who are not in the private school system than the 7% who are.

“How can it be that today that we find our country run by a group of people disproportionately who have had an educational and life experience so unlike the majority of people in this country.”

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