New Year’s Honours List Needs to Represent Increasingly Diverse Community
Head of the civil service Sir Bob Kerslake has overseen the birthday and New Year honours list that are drawn up and approved by the Queen. He has recently stated however that opening up the list to ethnic minorities was vital,
“That’s one of the key things that we want to achieve,” Sir Bob said.
“Anybody can nominate anybody for an honour and we see that as crucially important, we want the honours system to represent this country.
“We’ve done really well increasing the proportion of women, in 2014 they exceeded the number of men, but we’ve still got work to do in terms of the other communities in this country.”
Although work has been done to be more inclusive, the percentage of honours given to people of black, minority and ethnic background (BMEs) has stood at 6% for the past eight years. This is despite the fact that different ethnic communities make up 12% of the population according to the 2011 census, coming up to 14%.
Jessica Huie formed Colour Blind Cards after struggling to find a birthday card for her daughter that had a black child on the cover. She collected her MBE in summer and said,
“I feel incredibly proud to have been recognised for my achievements. I haven’t come from a privileged background, I’ve had lots of obstacles in my life.
“I was very aware of the lack of people of colour at Buckingham Palace. I was there with my Jamaican father and my daughter who’s black and my mum who’s white.”
She cites a lack of nominations as the problem, “I’d love to know how many people of colour were actually nominated because I think that’s far more useful to concentrate on than the number who were honoured.”
Hip hop artist and choreographer Jonzi D on the other hand turned down an MBE in 2011 due to its links to the empire.
“I would love the honours system to make reference to excellence, call it Member of British Excellence,” he said.
“I think that if we put empire by it that might be problematic for a lot of people who might see themselves as victims of the British Empire.
“I think Britain today is such a beautiful melting pot of culture. There’s a lot of different histories that make Britain what it is, and I think we need to acknowledge of these histories.”
Sir Bob Kerslake however denies the concept of empire is an obstacle,
“Our experience is that very few people turn down honours, and even fewer turn them down because of the Empire name, we don’t think that is the big issue at all, we think it is about awareness and people thinking it’s for them,” he said.
But he takes the controversies with the honours lists over the years in his stride, “That’s part of the job I guess and there will always be issues that come up on this, but in a way that demonstrates just how important the honours system is to people.
“They take it seriously and they want it to be done fairly and we put huge amounts of effort into making sure that’s the case.”