THE history of colonialism by Europeans is a bloody one indeed, but when it comes to celebrating the oppressive subjugation of foreign cultures past, nobody does it quite like the British state.

The Jubilee has been an excessive wet fart of an event, with the reigning monarch missing much of it due to her declining health. Yet among its various odes to exceptionalism, the Queen’s Jubilee Birthday Honours List stands out as one of the most egregious examples of Britain’s failure to address its colonial days.

Over the past centuries, European expansionism and authoritarianism has left bloody footprints across the continent time and time again – six million Jews murdered at the hands of Germany’s Nazi regime; an estimated 10m Africans in the Congo killed under the brutal guidance of Belgium’s King Leopold II; and the systemic torture and deaths of 1.5m Algerians under France’s colonial rule in the 1950s to name but a few.

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And at the heart of that, the United Kingdom’s very own shameful contribution to the waking nightmare of glorious conquest: the British Empire. Between the concentration camps of the Boer War and the enforced starvation of Indians under imperial rule, Britain has a particularly violent past even among its monstrous neighbours. Up to 29m died during the famine in India alone. European history doesn’t repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme.

With this bloody body count in mind – one which breezes past its colonial contemporaries in scale – I fail to see how it can ever be acceptable for the British state to benignly hand out awards and entitlements in service to its shameful imperial history.

There is no difference between an Order of the British Empire (OBE) and an order of the Third Reich; no difference between becoming a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) and a commander to the Butcher of the Congo; no difference between a British Empire Medal and a French Colonial Medal. Should any of these awards have existed in modern Europe they would rightly be condemned – so why not their equivalent here?

No disrespect to those who have accepted an award as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours (actually, some disrespect) but there is simply no moral justification for accepting an accolade that celebrates Britain’s imperialism or, worse, involves taking on the role of a knight or protector of the Empire itself. “For God and the Empire” remains the motto of the Honours system. It is explicit in its endorsement – and I can’t understand why anyone would choose to have their name associated with the atrocities that took place.

This is hardly a novel criticism of the honours system. In the early noughties, broadcaster Jon Snow investigated allegations of corruption around the awards, having been offered (and having refused to accept) an honour of his own.

Gus John, the Afro-Caribbean former director of education for Hackney who was also offered the title of CBE, told Snow, that he “regards [the title] Commander of the British Empire as part of the iconography of British imperialism” and that it would be a dishonour “to wander the planet as a commander of the very institution whose legacy I have tried so hard to mitigate”.

I suspect that if you were to ask any of this year’s recipients if they would accept an “Order of the Third Reich” or “Commander to the Butcher of the Congo”, they would rightly say no. So why is the British equivalent seen as so removed from the violent institution the honours system shares a name with and deference toward?

This isn’t the noughties any more. The world has had a very public and spirited discussion around how nations have failed to address their racist legacies. The British state, however, remains unwilling to engage in that discussion and a YouGov poll in 2020 revealed that Brits, more than any other former colonial power, still looked back fondly on the days of the Empire as a force for good in the world, rather than one that systematically undermined the cultures of entire nations while stripping them of resources.

Rather than engage, Britain seems happier to coo over photos of the Queen, a reigning symbol of empire, as she sits having tea with Paddington Bear who, let’s be honest, would be on the first plane to Rwanda under current British Government plans.

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All the shallow glamour of the Jubilee and the honours system only highlights its failures.

This isn’t to say there shouldn’t be some means of acknowledging the achievements and works of people who have contributed in a significant way to our culture, our society and our understanding of the world.

But the archaic awards system, with its various cash-for-honours scandals stretching back a century, is not fit for the modern world and I cringe to think how former nations still recovering from their time under Britain’s heel view photos of grinning celebrities and Tory donors posing with their shiny medals inscribed with deference to the Empire.

As far as I am concerned, everyone who was happy to take a medal or award without questioning the significance of what it stood for should be casting a critical eye over just why it felt acceptable to say “yes” when offered. Positively, over the past few years at least, the number of people rejecting honours has been on the increase, but Britain and Scotland still have much to do to address their history of colonialism and white supremacy – which is why every single medal in the name of the British Empire deserves to find itself at the bottom of a harbour, alongside the statue of Edward Colston.