When first seeing that Joseph Corre had refused his MBE because, he said, Tony Blair’s government was too morally bankrupt to award it, my first reaction was strongly favourable. The more people realise that the government is not “our leader” with moral authority to label things as good or bad, and to decide who is and isn’t worthy of our admiration, the better.
On reading his statement, however, my cheerfulness declined to familiar doubt and disappointment. He picked on just a couple of points – the “organised lying” relating to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the erosion of our civil liberties. The likely implication is that without these two things, Corre would consider the government sufficiently honourable to assign MBEs to whoever. Robin Cook, for example, who in 2003 wanted Iraq to be merely blockaded and occasionally bombed, as was the policy for the preceding 12 years, rather than invaded — would be a sufficiently “honourable man” to hand out medals.
To declare that one has standards for how a government must behave to be considered a moral authority, and then to set those standards so low, is almost more alarming than to grant the government authority blindly. “My country right or wrong” is more defensible than “My country, providing its crimes are not too gross and blatant.”
I have the same reaction whenever some pensioner makes a stand on principle against paying taxes. At first its “Yes! the government rules by consent of the governed, and that consent can be withdrawn”, and then it emerges that the hero is only objecting to one particular war, or one hospital closure or something, and seems to be implying that everything else the government does is worthy of being funded — a position which makes the “protester” appear one of the government’s strongest supporters.
I may be wronging Mr Corre — it may be that on reflection he would agree that no previous or alternative government was significantly more qualified to dispense “honour” than this one — but his statement would be immeasurably better for making that explicit. (And, of course, making things explicit is his claim to fame and honour in the first place).