In The Crown’s Season 4, Queen Elizabeth dramatically gives Margaret Thatcher the Order of Merit soon after Thatcher is pushed out of power. The Order of Merit is one of many special honors the Queen can give people, and it’s expected from the Queen that she gives some of those honors to former prime ministers. But… the Queen stopped giving honors to ex-prime ministers after John Major, which I did not realize before now. Tony Blair became prime minister (after Major) in 1997 and served for a decade. The Queen never gave Blair anything, and Blair marked the start of her refusal to give honors to former PMs. Following Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Theresa May have all gone without honors (following their respective prime minister tenures) too. So this is fascinating to me: why hasn’t Blair gotten anything?
Rumors have long circulated that the queen was so angered by what the royal family perceived as grandstanding by Tony Blair over the death of Princess Diana that he was denied Britain’s most senior honor, membership of the Order of the Garter, as a result.
Membership of the elite group is restricted to a maximum of 24 members. They are allowed to call themselves “Sir” or “Dame,” get to wear even sillier costumes than your average British noble including knickerbockers and a white ostrich feather, and attend an annual church service at Windsor with Her Majesty.
All members are appointed personally by the monarch. A new member can only be appointed when an old one dies. Blair’s five predecessors in No 10 Downing Street, from Ted Heath to John Major, were all given the Order of the Garter. However, the tradition of making former PMs members of the order came to a shuddering halt with the palace’s refusal to honor Blair. Without Blair being appointed, his successors, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Theresa May, have all been passed over for the honor for fear of suggestions of royal political bias or favoritism.
Now, however, The Sunday Times reports that a renewed effort is being put in by courtiers to unblock the impasse, particularly because three other coveted honors—the Order of the Thistle, the Order of Merit and the Order of Companions of Honor—have membership lists that see former Tory politicians massively outnumbering Labor ones. Of the 102 posts across the four highest honors, Tories hold 22 and Labor four. The imbalance is partly a function of the fact that in the past 40 years of the Queen’s reign, Labor has only governed for 13 years, but the exclusion of Blair and Brown is an entirely self-inflicted wound.
“There is concern in the palace that the senior orders are beginning to look politically unbalanced,” a source familiar with the discussions told The Sunday Times with a rather lavish sense of understatement. Courtiers are now suggesting that Gordon Brown be made a Knight of the Thistle to help balance out the numbers.
Useful cover could be provided by the fact that Gordon Brown is Scottish and the Thistle is seen as a Scottish near-equivalent to the Garter. One simple solution would involve the palace swallowing their pride and elevating Blair to the Order of the Garter as per precedent. However, the palace reportedly “just won’t do it,” the source said.
[From The Daily Beast]
Petty, thy name is Liz. Don’t get me wrong, there are completely legitimate and “political” reasons to abhor Tony Blair, but his behavior during the royal debacle around Princess Diana’s death – when he had only been prime minister for a couple of months!! – was completely fine. That whole drama was the least problematic part of his tenure, and he really was trying to save the Queen from her worst f–king instincts. And he ended up becoming a royalist, not a “royal reformer” or republican. There really is no reason for the Queen to reject all honors to Blair out of a convoluted spite because… he accurately read the nation’s mood following Diana’s death. And I’m sure that the thing which really upsets those fussy old courtiers is the fact that the Blair-Brown log jam means that they can’t give David Cameron any honors for fear of looking entirely pro-Tory and anti-Labour. But the Queen isn’t “political,” remember.
Photos courtesy of Backgrid, Avalon Red.
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