This week we have heard of the astonishing bonuses paid to certain bankers. But my thoughts have about a group of people who do astonishing things without any prospect of significant reward.
Here is what I wrote to the Queen about them:
Queen Elizabeth II
Buckingham Palace 4th January 2015
I write to ask if you have considered instituting an award for services to humanity. You will be aware of the strenuous efforts to contain the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. A large number of people have volunteered to go there to treat those infected and as far as I know receive no extra money or other benefits for doing so.
The same is true of local health workers. I saw one woman on TV who collects and buries the bodies of Ebola victims in Sierra Leone. She earns £7 a day which I suspect is not much even there. She has to work in full protective clothing because the bodies are highly infectious, which must be very unpleasant in a hot country, and the slightest mistake could cost her her own life. Her neighbours avoid her because they are afraid of catching the virus.
Such people display a special kind of courage. It is not the adrenalin fuelled bravery of the soldier in battle. They face something they cannot see, hear, taste, touch or smell but which is as dangerous as a bullet. And they do it day after day, some of them for months.
I suggest a new award as none of the honours you currently bestow are appropriate. For example Knighthoods are awarded for “services to banking” or “services to politics”. From my position in society this means making yourself stinking rich at ordinary peoples expense or furthering your own political career. The people I am suggesting should be honoured have no possibility of fame or fortune arising from their selfless work.
Your Majesty is in a unique position to institute an award that is international and free from any political interference because you are head of the Commonwealth. Two of the countries affected by Ebola are in the Commonwealth. However I suggest that the award should be available to anyone of any nationality who puts themselves at risk for the common good without personal gain.
The Ebola emergency is not the only instance of this kind of public service. Dr. Abbas Khan could have stayed safely at home with his family in Streatham and earnt good money as an orthopaedic surgeon for the NHS. Instead he went Allepo in Syria to treat the victims of the war there. A very risky thing to do. He was arrested, tortured and died in captivity. We cannot help him now but an award acknowledging his efforts to help others might offer some comfort to his family.
I ask you to give this suggestion serious consideration.
Here is the reply I received:
Well I beg your pardon Ma’am but I think you have missed the point. I wrote to you because I think this is best not in the hands of politicians. Right now the only thing that the Right Honourable Philip Hammond MP Secretary of state for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has on his mind is how to get the Conservatives re-elected.
Dr. Abbas Khan has been dead for over a year so the politicians have had several chances to honour him. Why haven’t they done it? More to the point why didn’t they do more to get him home when he was arrested?
The whole point is to honour those who are not noticed by politicians because they do things for the good of humanity rather than for personal wealth, power or prestige. They are therefore not the sort of people that politicians wish to be associated with.
Which leaves me with a dilemma. Do I drop the whole ideal? Think of someone else who could institute such an award? Or start a petition on change.org to ask the Queen to think again?
Your suggestions are welcome.