“When a knight won his spurs in the stories of old, He was gentle and brave, he was gallant and bold. With a shield on his arm and a lance in his hand, For God and for valour he rode through the land.” Jan Struther
No peerages for guessing what I’m writing about today. There has been a wealth of choice as we all reconvene after the Summer particularly if you, like me, have been watching far too much of BBC Parliament from behind the sofa. Yes, the Honours List has come out and, as per usual, a selection of people who really don’t deserve one are on it.
We all know about knights. Armour, bravery, ladies in those pointy hats with the hankies coming out of the top swooning at their manly prowess. Historically an honour given to men (not women, obviously, because how on Earth could we be expected to get on a horse and fight in a skirt? Empress Matilda, Eleanor of Aquitaine and Joan of Arc clearly didn’t get that memo) for military prowess and service to their monarch. The Knights Templar are probably the most famous who fought in the Crusades. And when they became too big for their boots – money, it’s always about money – they were slaughtered on Friday 13th which is why we all think it’s unlucky. Which it is, if you are Knight Templar. Keep your wits about you this coming Friday. There was an informal chivalric code that all knights were expected to obey, the keys here being honour and nobility. Richard III; when he made his final, fateful charge down the hill as Bosworth, led from the front. Henry VIII, whilst being quite a bit of a shit in pretty much every aspect of his life, was brilliant at jousting. You get the picture.
So for those of you who don’t know, about twenty five years ago, a man called Geoffrey Boycott was quite good at cricket. Also, about twenty five years ago, a French court found that he was quite good with his fists. He was convicted of assault of his then girlfriend. Anyway, it has been questioned as to why someone convicted of a criminal offence and particularly an assault on a female partner, should be recommended for an honour, and recommended particularly, I would like it to be noted, by a woman. It’s a good question.
One hopes that it remains a fundamental tenet of justice that having made a mistake and paid their debt to society that someone who has a spent criminal conviction is given the opportunity and support to learn from it and move forward with their lives. Of course there are shades of grey within that – some people don’t want to change, some people can’t, some people will simply never get better and in the eyes of many, some things are simply unforgiveable. However, that is the principle, and frankly if that goes, then rather like the government thinking that they are entitled to pick and choose which laws apply to them, then if we all start thinking like that, we’re all in trouble.
When asked about potential criticism of the honour from a domestic violence charity, Mr Boycott’s response was: “It’s twenty five years ago , love….I don’t care a toss about her, love.” A position that would be more believable if he hadn’t then said he voted Leave because of it. It is language that every single woman reading this has been batted with by a man when he’s trying to both belittle and dismiss her.
A potential client telephoned me once for a quote on a job. I gave him the quote and other pertinent details. expecting him to end the telephone call and then call me back if he wanted to instruct me. Rather than do that he decided to take the opportunity to berate me, an assistant solicitor at the time who was merely telling him a fee from the firm’s fee scale, that I was too expensive and he wouldn’t be using me, and whilst he did so he called me “dear” a lot. He then put the ‘phone down. Another man tried a similar thing with a Partner on another occasion. She was older and stroppier and had heard it all before – she stopped him mid-sentence and advised him that she was not his “dear”. This week, Jo Swinson, Leader of the Liberal Democrats, rose to speak in Parliament and was told, by a male MP to “sit down, love”. I rather suspect that the journalist interviewing Mr Boycott was not his “love” either. Casual words speak volumes.
Mr Boycott maintains his innocence and has said that he under the French system he was guilty until found innocent. As you know, the English & Welsh system is innocent until proven guilty. The suggestion he made was that he would have been found not guilty under the English & Welsh system. The issue I have with this is that whilst the French may do things differently, the Court which had all of the evidence before them, evidence significantly over and above the photograph which has been doing the rounds on the internet, and they, the Court did not find him innocent.
Thirdly, it was twenty five years ago. And if there was a modicum of remorse for the entire incident being shown by the guilty party then I might have some sympathy for this position. However, on the one hand, the criminal conviction is being hawked as being so long ago that we should all just forget about it because the Court got it wrong anyway and no one in England believes it. However, the same logic is not being applied by the hawker to an impressive cricket career of twenty five years ago. Shall we all just forget that as well because it was also a long time ago? Ditch the peerage with it? Not keen? Strange.
There has been talk of the peerage system being outdated and needing modernising; I disagree. I think we should go back to basics. Given some of the decisions, I’m all for letting the Queen decide. She’s an eminently sensible woman who has shown herself to possess a super human ability to hold her tongue in the most trying of circumstances when the rest of us would have completely lost it. And her criteria are that someone should get an honour if and only if they have done something truly exceptional for the love, safety and security of our community, our country or our world. Someone who is gentle and brave and gallant and bold. Someone who rides through our land for God if they have one, or for good old-fashioned kindness and love if they don’t. For valour. They all ought to have some riding lessons. For what is a knight without their horse? And if we are going back to basics they might be required to ride into battle at some point so they will need a horse. And just so you know, Mr Boycott, if we do, it’s knights at the front, love.