Give us a twirl, Ma'am

PUBLISHED: 12:39 05 January 2007 | UPDATED: 22:28 28 May 2010

I have resisted adding to the increasing rumblings of national discontent in recent years about the supposed devaluing of our honours system. It s not that some people seem to be able to buy their honours that has caused most discomfort, but that this ver

I have resisted adding to the increasing rumblings of national discontent in recent years about the supposed devaluing of our honours system.

It's not that some people seem to be able to buy their honours that has caused most discomfort, but that this very British and worthy tradition has become unashamedly populist, with awards going to celebrities who have achieved little or nothing but their celebrity status.

One could argue that there were several examples of this in the New Year's Honours List, with awards conferred on well-known people who just happen to be good at their jobs. I'll leave you to scan the list and judge for yourselves who they are.

But one award did intrigue me. Audrey O'Neill became an MBE for services to the sport of baton twirling, the world of majorettes and drum majors.

Firstly baton twirling is not a sport, and although here in the Fens we don't see many majorettes, I fail to see how this form of entertainment, however virtuous and wholesome it is claimed to be, can be remotely akin to a service or achievement valued by society.

Having previously kept my distance from those who have decried the state and direction of our honours system, I'm now changing my view.

If Ms O'Neil, who may possess the world's best baton skills for all I now, can be rewarded for services to baton twirling, there must be something all of us could be honoured for.

And if that is so our honours system has been irreparably damaged and has, therefore, passed it sell-by date.

It may seem worthy at first glance, but Government plans to raise the age for buying tobacco from 16 to 18 will have little or no effect on the number of young people who smoke.

Shopkeepers will have difficulty judging the ages of their teenage customers; and bearing in mind that in 2004 only 50 retailers nationwide were fined for selling to those under age it's a fair bet they will not bother much with the new rules, which come into force in October, three months after the smoking ban takes effect in pubs and restaurants.

Now this ban can be easily implemented and easily policed. And the health and social benefits it will bring mean that for so many of us the second half of 2007 will be far happier than the first.

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