Give MPs power to strip unethical elites of their knighthoods - Shadow Chancellor

British businessman Sir Philip Green © KY Price
People who were knighted and then engage in unethical or illegal conduct should be stripped of the title by MPs, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has suggested.

McDonnell made the remark during a speech on Thursday to mark Workers’ Memorial Day. The event is held annually across the world to remember those who died while carrying out day-to-day work duties.

Addressing crowds gathered at the memorial, McDonnell said MPs should have the power to remove Knighthoods from those who bring the accolade into ill repute.

Citing the conduct of British Home Stores (BHS) chief Sir Philip Green and ex-spin doctor for Margaret Thatcher Sir Bernard Ingham, the shadow chancellor said such powers for MPs are paramount.

'Degraded system'

Green faced a firestorm of criticism after he pocketed £400 million in dividends from UK department store BHS, while leaving it with a pensions deficit totaling hundreds of millions of pounds when he sold it on in 2015.

The high street chain was purchased by a consortium headed by Dominic Chappell called Retail Acquisitions for the sum of £1. After the Green family withdrew the £400 million in dividends, the chain’s pension’s deficit hit £571m. The firm subsequently spiraled into administration, putting 11,000 jobs in jeopardy.

Green was knighted a decade ago on the approval of then-Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair for services to the retail industry.

Reflecting on Green’s actions concerning the fire sale of BHS, McDonnell said the age-old system for administrating knighthoods had been “degraded.”

'Parliament should have right to strip Knighthoods'

McDonnell also took issue with Ingham, who previously claimed Liverpool fans present at the Hillsborough catastrophe in 1989 were “tanked up yobs.”

The former Tory spin doctor refused to apologize for the slur, despite the fact an inquest ruled this week the deaths of 96 Liverpool supporters at the football match were unlawful and fans of the football club present at the game were not guilty of any wrongdoing.

Confronted by a reporter at his home in Surrey, southeast England, was unwilling to discuss the long-awaited inquest verdict.

The inquest concluded that the behavior of Liverpool fans at the fateful match did not "cause or contribute to" the catastrophic situation at the Leppings Lane End turnstiles, which led to the death of 96 innocent people.

In the wake of the ruling, emotional scenes erupted among hundreds of grieving relatives, who had gathered to commemorate their loved ones following a 27-year battle for justice.

“Only this week the past actions of Philip Green and Bernard Ingham have led to many calling into question who our society should give such honors and titles to,” Mc Donnell said.

“We should consider removing the secret committees from the process. Parliament should have the right to strip honors from individuals, not civil servants.”

McDonnell argued that the system of administrating knighthoods must become more democratic and transparent.

“We will take the power back from elites and faceless bureaucrats and give it to the people to decide whether the Bernard Inghams and Philip Greens of this world keep their titles or not,” he said.

“We don’t believe, like the Tories that wealth is the only metric of success. And we won’t let the Whitehall cronies or a Tory government protect fellow cronies any longer.”

'Out of touch elite'

At present, the power to strip people of knighthoods is held by a clandestine group of civil servants. McDonnell insisted this ability should be taken from these secretive groups and given to MPs. He said the system in its current form is symbolic of how Britain is controlled by an elite, immune from the regulatory constraints ordinary citizens face.

He called for root-and-branch reform, so an increasingly out of touch elite can be brought back to reality.

“They don’t live in the same places as the rest of us. They don’t pay taxes like the rest of us. Cocooned by their wealth and power, they don’t think the same rules apply to them as the rest of us,” he said.

“That means we get economic decisions made in the interests of the very few, and not the many. It means a whole society where the potential of its people is squandered by the greed and arrogance of a very few at the top.”

Labour MP Paul Flynn, who is a member of the public administration and constitutional affairs committee, has vowed to refer Green to Britain’s honors forfeiture committee.

The ex-chairman of Dixons, who led the honors committee that proposed Green’s ennoblement, told the Guardian recent developments concerning BHS were not good, and the sale of the chain to Retail Acquisitions did not inspire him with confidence.

“Our golden rule was that you must have done exceptionally well in your profession, but you must have done something beyond that for society,” he said.

“If the judgment was that you have not continued your behavior in a manner that was consistent with the award granted to you then it is fair that it is removed.”