When I think about my life as an old man, I have a few different versions of how I see that going. One involves a superyacht in international waters; another a small beach house in a remote area up North; and a third sees me holding court from a large leather lounge chair in the Northern Club or some similarly ivy-clad building, sporting a big red nose and a scotch on the go. “Oh Sir Damian,” they implore, “tell us another one.”
As improbably – and in all likelihood, completely hideous – the latter vision might be, the Government’s decision to return to titular honours make it at least possible. (Actually in my pretend future it’s ‘Lord Christie’, but I’m not sure how that relates to whether or not we have a titular honours system in New Zealand).
I had to go around the streets yesterday to do some vox pops for Back Benches – and while I certainly make no claim as to the scientific accuracy of a survey where I simply interview the first ten people willing to talk to me as I walk from TVNZ down towards Les Mills – it seemed nine out of the ten people were in favour of the move.
I don’t think there’s any doubt more people understand the basics of a Knighthood – i.e. that the person becomes a Sir or Dame because they’ve done something special – than are familiar with the system we’ve had for the past nine years. But I don’t think you’d find more than one in a hundred people who could actually tell you the designations of the New Zealand Order of Merit in order, whether before 2000, last week, or after these latest changes. The point is, someone can have any string of important letters after their name, but unless they’re Sir John or Dame Jane, we don’t tend to know, and we don’t tend to care. And if knowing and caring are two things we’re trying to achieve in awarding honours to people (because as far as I’m aware, there’s no cash prize or other reason to want them), then going back to Knights and Dames makes sense.
I mean, personally (and my Northern Club fantasy aside), I don’t give a toss what you’re entitled to call yourself. With or without the ‘Sir’, Bob Jones is still a self-absorbed cantankerous old scroat, who only gets any airtime at all because the media know he’ll say something shocking – he’s like a geriatric Howard Stern. And don’t get me started on that squash player who’s sold out to more insurance providers, deodorants brands and vitamin supplement companies than I can count. But I’m sure neither would fizz particularly if we simply addressed them by their first name – and I’d say the same thing about our current and immediately former Prime Ministers too. Someone told me once that Jim Bolger quite enjoyed his time as US Ambassador, because over there once you’ve been President you’re ‘Mister President’ for life, and obviously they assumed the same about our Prime Ministers. But I think most of us don’t tend to stand on tradition. We’re too small – I’ve blogged about it previously – and in a country where any of us can bump into the PM walking down the road, it’s all a bit silly to start bowing and scraping.
One thing that does interest me though – why now? I mean, the “Why National?” question is pretty obvious isn’t it? How many successful businessmen (intentionally gender-specific) and former high ranking politicians with influence on or in the party have been waiting for the Queen’s Birthday as though it was their own? Who needs fairy bread and pass the parcel, let’s get the sword out and start tapping some deep pockets on the shoulder. If I were a betting man, I’d say Shipley and Brash would be in with a grin – maybe not this year, maybe that’s too transparent even for a National Government still early enough in its term not to give a fuck about public perception. And maybe that’s the answer to the why now? Sure, the economy’s tanking, unemployment is tracking upwards and the Government’s books aren’t looking that hot, but with a minimum of three Queen’s Birthdays until a change of Government, might as well get in there early and keep the backers happy, eh? Whatd’ya reckon, Sir Mark?