Give honours to real heroes, not donors and cronies

Published by The Times (4th January, 2022)

It seems strange that at the start of every year our political leaders showcase cronyism and elitism. Yet sure enough, the new year honours have once again seen baubles doled out to party donors, sacked ministers and time-serving civil servants.

Typical were the knighthoods awarded to the hedge fund founder David Harding, who has given the Tories more than £1 million alongside a big gift to Cambridge University, and the former justice secretary Robert Buckland, who was dismissed to make way for the demoted Dominic Raab.

The corruption of this archaic system has been repeatedly exposed, most recently with revelations that a royal aide connived with fixers to smooth an honour for a rich Saudi charity donor. What’s more, it undervalues citizens who deserve genuine recognition rather than those who merely shovelled sufficient cash into party coffers or spent long enough sitting at their Whitehall desk.

One such citizen is Folajimi Olubunmi-Adewole. Jimi, as he was known, was on his way home from work in April when he saw a woman fall from London Bridge. He heard her shout for help, screaming that she could not swim. So the 20-year-old sprinted down to the riverbank and jumped into the Thames. The woman, and a second man who went to her rescue, were saved by the emergency services. Olubunmi-Adewole lost his life.

Michael Adewola, his father, said that although he could never bring back his son, he hoped that such bravery might be remembered. And so it should. Politicians from all parties hailed the selfless heroism shown by this young man from a south London council estate, who was working in a well-known Westminster restaurant. He was reportedly his family’s breadwinner.

Most honours mark lifetime achievements, so cannot be given posthumously. But surely Olubunmi-Adewole’s altruism and courage deserves recognition, ideally with the George Cross, the country’s highest civilian gallantry award? Among past recipients is Jane Harrison, 22, an air stewardess who died evacuating passengers from a burning plane at Heathrow in 1968.

An award for Olubunmi-Adewole would not on its own restore lustre to a tarnished honours system. But it would at least show admiration and respect for a genuine hero — and someone much more deserving than all those cronies, donors and sycophants.

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