KNIGHTS ARE FAIR DRAWING IN

OH for the days when prizegivings were small, civilised, uncontroversial affairs. The award of a book token at the end of term for good attendance; the giving of chocolate medals for sports day wins. These days we have honours announcements, which play out about as peaceably as bun fights organised by Scarface.

The latest gong-giving to have the populace wondering whether those in charge have mislaid their marbles is the award of a knighthood to Nick Clegg. There it was, in black and white: The Right Honourable Nicholas William Peter Clegg is to become a knight bachelor for “political and public service”.

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Now, you might think this listing is somewhat lacking in detail, and you would be right. But instead of trawling through Hansard, Who’s Who, and dredging up all that unpleasantness over saying he was against tuition fees only to promptly support them, I’ll leave it to Mr Josh Gudgeon, a partner in a PR firm, to put the Cleggian contribution to public life into perspective.

Mr Gudgeon has caused an internet stir this week by asking why it will be arise Sir Nick and not, for example, arise Sir Kenny Dalglish. As Mr Gudgeon tweeted: “Kenny Dalglish, a man who personally attended the 96 funerals of the Hillsborough victims and has raised millions for charity, is yet to receive a knighthood. Nick Clegg, who broke his biggest election promise and served as a poor deputy PM for five years, is to get one. Anyone?”

At the last count, the tweet had been liked 36,000 times.

One could supply several possible reasons why someone has seen fit to reward the former Liberal Democrat leader, who lost his seat in the 2017 General Election, in this way. Other senior figures in the party who served in the coalition government and lost their seats, Sir Vince Cable and Sir Ed Davey, were given knighthoods. Both returned to the Commons in 2017.

Mr Clegg has, moreover, remained a central figure in the Remain movement, leading calls for a second Brexit referendum. Giving him a knighthood might also be seen as smoothing the way for the inevitable day when Tony Blair becomes a Sir. If there is no rioting in the streets over the award of an honour for the ex- member for Sheffield Hallam, it is probably safe to do the same one day for the former Labour leader. About 20 years from now should be fine. Maybe. 

The Clegg row typifies the debate about honours. They are meant to go to the objectively deserving, but working out who fits into that category is a subjective exercise. One woman’s Sir is another man’s time server; my idea of a worthy CBE recipient might be different from yours. And so it goes on.

It is different lower down the honours list. I cannot recall any outcry over an award to the lollipop person who turns out in all weathers to make sure children get to school safely.  Or the many charity workers, without whom society would not function half so well and who save the state billions every year. All these folk, often patronisingly described as “ordinary people” deserve something for their extraordinary contributions to public life. If we are not going to pay them more, or pay them at all, and simply give them a collective “thank you”, then an award from the Queen is the way to do it.

Where trouble arises, along with the various Sirs and Dames, is in the higher honour leagues, and in the political categories in particular. Is it time to dispense with these on the grounds that those elected to public office are already rewarded with relatively generous salaries and bumper pensions? Or is there a need to recognise notable contributions to political life?

In the case of Mr Clegg, one could argue that by agreeing to go into coalition with the Conservatives, and U-turning on tuition fees, he contributed to the forming of a government in difficult circumstances – remember those panicky days in May 2010? – and by helping it pass controversial measures, he kept it in power.

But equally, if he had opted instead to support Gordon Brown, history, and the bank accounts of many graduates outwith Scotland, would have been very different. No one forced Mr Clegg to go into coalition with David Cameron. It was disastrous for his party, and his career as an MP, but that is politics. It’s a rough old game. Why should some who play it have prizes?

They should not. Political gongs have as much place in a modern democracy as the unelected House of Lords. No voter would miss them if they were gone, which surely is the ultimate test of their usefulness. Maybe Sir Nick could make their abolition his next campaign?

STATE OF ROADS SNOW JOKE

IT had been as predictable as Christmas Day falling on December 25, but still the snow that fell yesterday seemed to catch the authorities by surprise.

Not you. You covered the car the night before. You looked out the hiking boots and the waterproof jacket, put a shovel in the back of the car, made sure the mobile was charged. You did your bit. Surely the road gritters would do likewise? Pause here for hollow laughter. 

Driving to work in Glasgow yesterday was hell on wheels. No ploughed or gritted roads, cars creeping along behind each other as if engaged in the world’s slowest, least fun, conga. The pavements were just as bad, though not as awful as on the days of the flash freeze when Glasgow’s streets were a battlefield on which many a brave pedestrian fell.

If not for my trusty Yaktrax ice grips I too would have come a cropper. I discovered them when I had to walk two frisky young Labradors, on leads, during a big freeze.  They have been a godsend ever since. Give them a try and you, too, won’t look back. 

CHECK OUT THIS CHAOS

BRITAIN is a nation of shoplifters, as Napoleon, or was it Adam Smith, nearly said. Never more so than when faced with a self-service till, it seems.

Research by the website VoucherCodesPro.co.uk has found that losses from shoppers putting goods through without paying for them have increased from £1.6 billion a year in 2014 to £3.2 billion.

Some 60% said they did so because a fault occurred, and they were too rushed or flustered to seek help. The rest opted for a five finger discount simply because they could.

George Charles of the VoucherCodes website said: “Stores may want to consider just how many assistants they have manning their self-service stations.”

So the staff who used to be on the tills will now stand behind them, and shoppers will carry on doing the jobs of checkout assistants. As long as the money lost to stores continues to be less than that paid out in wages to staff the status quo will persist, and more people will, by accident or design, risk a tap on the shoulder. Not a satisfactory situation by anyone’s reckoning.