Ken Livingstone turn down New Year Honour twice

For some, the New Year Honours List is a celebration of the year’s achievements, but for others it is a bizarre hangover from feudal times.

The archaic honours system was first introduced with the Order of the Garter in the mid 14th Century, elevating knights to the monarch’s inner circle. But it has evolved over the years, with King George V introducing the rank of MBE, OBE and CBE in 1917, largely to honour those who served during the First World War in a non-combative capacity.

But at a time of year when news is traditionally thin on the ground and Fleet Street’s finest are squabbling over which Olympian merits becoming a commander or simply member of the British Empire, commentators ponder whether honours still have value and relevance today.

Sparking the argument this year was the news that Danny Boyle turned down a knighthood for his hugely successful Opening Olympic Ceremony, saying that he was “very proud to be an equal citizen, and I think that’s what the opening ceremony was actually about”.

Primrose Hill playwright Alan Bennett also turned down a knighthood in 1996 saying ‘‘it just wouldn’t suit me”.

Another dissident is former mayor of London Ken Livingstone who turned down a CBE for services to the Olympics.

He told the Ham&High that this was the second time he had rejected Her Majesty’s honour.

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The 67-year-old Labour politician said: “I am not really in favour of the honours system, but if you’re going to have one, then it should be reserved for people who have done great voluntary works or sporting achievements.

“The system is discredited when politicians get involved.

“There are all these people who basically pay �20,000 or �30,000 in political donations and they get an honour. I think that’s just wrong. It’s always been a bit of a class establishment. I don’t mind if it’s people doing outstanding things, but giving it to politicians and business people just stinks.”

Mr Livingstone, who helped secure the Games for London in 2012, was previously offered the honorary title of deputy lieutenant in 1986, but again he refused.

“The deputy lieutenant is awarded by the Queen specifically and I was an active politician at the time talking to the IRA leadership,” he said. “What do you expect a deputy lieutenant to do with the IRA?!”

Hampstead’s two newest knights are heading up a long list of locals recognised for their outstanding contributions in their fields in the 2013 New Year’s Honours.

Kenneth Grange, knighted in this year’s honours almost three decades after he was awarded a CBE for services to design, defended the honours system.

“You read about [Jimmy] Savile and a few scallywags and you think, I am really not sure I want to be a member of that club. But there are always a few bad apples,” said the 83-year-old.

“I can imagine how it might be fashionable to be a bit snotty about those things because they are old and ‘establishment’, they are not seen as very ‘cool’, but it is still regarded as recognition of staying the course, if nothing else.”