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Loyalty In Our Time

Updated: Sep 19, 2023

What role does loyalty play at this present time? We have an inbuilt allegiance to our family, friends, spouse or partner. However, when it comes to loyalty to your country, “my country right or wrong” [1] is perhaps not seen as a rule of thumb.

On Friday 27th January 2023, the actor Alan Cumming announced that he was returning his Order of the British Empire (OBE) due to conversations about the British monarchy and the British Empire and how it profited from its actions. Justifying his actions, Cumming said, “The Queen’s death and the ensuing conversations about the role of the monarchy and especially the way the British Empire profited at the expense and death of indigenous peoples across the world opened my eyes.” [2]

He said that the subsequent reaction “broke the internet” and one such prominent reaction which no doubt was hard to miss was from the ever-opinionated Piers Morgan who tweeted, ‘What a pathetic, disingenuous, disloyal, attention-seeking little twerp.'

That is the sort of provocative language we have come to expect from Morgan, who himself enjoys seeking attention. But I’m more curious on whether it is disloyal to return your OBE whether it be for that reason or another?

The Jam frontman Paul Weller, Scientist Francis Crick, and the distinguished poet Benjamin Zephaniah have all turned down honours. Zephaniah specifically stated that he is profoundly anti-empire. It logically follows that one cannot be disloyal to an empire that no longer exists, so it begs the question - to whom might he be disloyal?

This action by Cumming could well have an attention-seeking element to it, but it’s almost certainly not disingenuous. This realisation may well be quite the opposite, as this is a clear development of his beliefs. He may have decided that his values have changed since receiving the honour and he no longer feels able to keep it whilst holding his developed opinions.

The words used by Morgan were purposefully strong and were no doubt carefully selected because of their power and effectiveness in evoking a reaction. This would perhaps mean a small win for Morgan who is currently experiencing turbulence once again as he has been named in a lawsuit against NewsCorp regarding phone hacking.

I am curious as to which part could be construed as disloyal. He may have meant the mere act of returning it, or perhaps he was referring to the reason. On a more general level, Morgan may see it as an act of snubbing the honours system and its patrons. However, the honours system is both inconsistent and flawed, especially in light of the Cash-for-Honours scandal [3].

This is nothing new either, in 1922, Sir Joseph Robinson supposedly received a peerage for £30,000, which today amounts to just over half a million pounds. Then-Prime Minister David Lloyd George had a ‘price list for peerages’ which were sold by political fixer Maundy Gregory, selling peerages with prices starting at £10,000 (over £400,000 in today’s money). Plenty of knighthoods were given out in Cardiff alone, leading to it being known as the "city of dreadful knights." [4]

It has long been thought by some that the honours list is a tool for personal interests, gain, and leverage, or perhaps useful for an agenda. Whether it’s tennis player Tim Henman being awarded an OBE to increase public interest in the honours, or Tony Blair being accused of filling the House of Lords with supporters. With this in mind, and taking the above into account, it makes one wonder just how special honours are, not to mention their true value, if it can be said that have value at all.

Consequently, I fail to see how it can be disloyal to discard something which arguably has diminishing importance and relevance. Or indeed to discard an honour born from a system which has been tainted by money, power, favouritism, and class bias. To do so is not a slur upon our nation, nor does it bring your loyalty to your nation into question. Perhaps it is a reflection of love for your country that you wish to bring forward a conversation about a tradition such as the honours system, what it represents and its history. And indeed, perhaps it shows a love for your country if you wish to change or remove it in the name of social change. We do not owe anything to the honours system, not loyalty nor favouritism.

The criticism by Piers Morgan et al is a distraction. but it is also an attempt at keeping himself in the conversation whatever that might be. Furthermore, he is interested in neither dialogue nor truth and he frequently moves per the Overton window.

What he is banking on here is that there are still people who believe that there is a currency in loyalty for your country, that of the Dunkirk Spirit [5], because those are the type of people whom he can speak to the easiest in matters such as this.

In my opinion, we must not allow the conversation about the honours system, the royal family, and the history of our country to be convoluted by labels such as ‘disloyal’, since such things are a distraction. Furthermore, such things are subjective depending on your background and your beliefs socially and politically.

“All of us should have free choice when it comes to patriotic displays… a government wisely acting within its bounds will earn loyalty and respect from its citizens. A government dare not demand the same.” — Jesse Ventura


Edward Littleton is a writer and poet from North West London, now residing in peaceful Wiltshire with his family. He enjoys reading, history, politics and current affairs.

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