Originally published in the Evening Standard 16th Oct 2020
In light of the recent Black Lives Matter demonstrations, the need to understand our shared histories has never been more important – to help shape our shared futures.
The CBE given to trailblazing headteacher Yvonne Conolly is a wonderful example of how this can be achieved. Yvonne, a member of the Windrush generation became the first black headmistress in 1969 and sadly the only surviving from the original first black headteachers, which included Tony O’Connor and Beryl Gilroy. For over four decades successive Governments have overlooked the contributions made by our pioneering black headteachers, with none of them receiving a senior national honour. At the start of Black History Month, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson dedicated his video message to Yvonne and how “she inspired and mentored not only her young charges but also generations of educators.” The awarding of the CBE, has gone some way to correcting the decades of neglect and sacrifices that our first BAME headteachers made, not only in breaking the glass ceiling but facing abuse and death threats from the far right for just doing their job.
This was the most diverse honours list ever with 13 per cent of successful candidates coming from BAME backgrounds beating the previous highest percentage of 12 per cent in the New Year list of 2019. The public honours system in recent years has become more independent from political influence. Nominations are made by the public and assessed by independent committees. The public honours should not be confused with the political honours list which is decided by the sitting Prime Minister. However each year the Prime Minister of the day can set strategic priorities for these independent committees and it is clear this round the focus was on the Government’s “levelling up” agenda, with the list reflecting the length and breadth of society. Read more ‘A remarkable lady’: Charles honours UK’s first black headmistress
Business leaders in the north have been recognised. For example, Blackburn’s Issa brothers, Mohsin and Zuber who recently brought the 71 year old Asda supermarket chain back to British ownership after 21 years. Their entrepreneurial expertise in securing countless jobs in the north of the country has seen them being awarded CBEs.
But what makes this list so unique from previous honour lists was the Prime Minister’s inclusion of over 400 additional Covid-19 heroes. For raising nearly £1m for charity by walking while fasting during Ramadan, 101 year old Dabirul Choudhury was awarded an OBE, whilst Rajinder Singh Harzall ‘the Skipping Skih’ received a MBE for encouraging elderly people to stay active in lockdown. The Covid-19 recipients have embodied the blitz spirt which was led by the Captain Tom who was awarded a knighthood earlier in the year.
There is never a better time to put forward someone for a honour, from anywhere in the country. The Government sets out very clear guidelines, on how to nominate someone, at gov.uk/honours. All you will need to do is fill out an online form, describing in no more than 500 words why your nominee is deserving of an award. You also need two supporting letters of reference. Now is the best time for us have a honours system which reflect the whole of society, so nominate someone today.