Knighthoods always seem to go to the bigwigs - why do ordinary heroes like Ernie miss out?

Ernie Horth

Ernie Horth - Credit: Archant

Iain Dale remembers a 97 year old Conservative party stalwart and asks why, when the knighthoods and other honours are being handed out, people like Ernie Horth are overlooked...

Every day 1,400 funerals take place all over the country. Most are attended by a few dozen people and go unreported or remarked upon.

On Wednesday at Christ Church in Norwich, a very special funeral took place. A man most readers of this column won't have heard of was given a fond farewell. His name was Ernie Horth and he died earlier this month at the grand old age of 97.

Ernie was a stalwart of Norwich Conservatives for many decades. He flew the Tory flag in Norwich City Council elections each year for many years. He got little thanks for it, nor did he expect it. A veteran of World War II, he spent most of his adult life working in butchery in Magdalen Street in Norwich. I first met him during the 1983 general election campaign, where we were both helping the Tory candidate for Norwich North, Patrick Thompson oust the former Labour health secretary David Ennals. He became a friend and even when my life took me away from Norfolk we kept in touch. His Christmas card would usually bemoan the state of the Conservative Party, often exclaiming: "What would Maggie think?"

I think of Ernie as I commentate on the current state of the Conservative Party and the ongoing leadership election. Why? Because there are thousands of Ernie Horths up and down the country who tramp the streets day after day spreading the message on behalf of their own political tribes.

It's the party's footsoldiers who play a key role in our politics, but they get scant attention from a media obsessed by politicians' private lives and the provenance of a picture.

These are the people who propelled the Liberal Democrats to positions of power both locally and nationally, by indulging in their unique brand of pavement politics. These are the people who month after month, come rain or shine, deliver the LibDem Focus leaflets.

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These are the people who spread Jeremy Corbyn's message through your letterboxes. For the Conservatives they deliver the 'In Touch' leaflets.

In Westminster the national politicians take charge of the air war, but on the ground throughout the country it's ordinary men and women like Ernie Horth who fight the ground war. And they usually go completely unrecognised.

If OBEs were handed out fairly, Ernie Horth would have got one decades ago for service to politics and his party. So would thousands of other dedicated people in all parties. Instead, the gongs are handed out to national politicians, sometimes deservedly so, sometimes not.

It's now the case that a quarter of the 12 LibDem MPs have knighthoods. I'm not saying they don't deserve them, but imagine the outcry if the same proportion of Tory MPs had been awarded them.

Sometimes we need to think of the people do the real work in the constituencies when political honours are handed out. Strangely, even though the honours system has been democratised in many areas, and ordinary people with extraordinary devotion to particular causes are being recognised, in the sphere of politics it's usually still the great and good who still get their so-called 'buggins turn' awards.

Party donors still get peerages, knighthoods and CBEs. People who rise up the greasy pole of the voluntary party organisations still get their OBEs - often referred to in the political world as a reward for 'Other Buggers' Efforts'.

I'd like to see a system where a certain amount of honours are awarded to people from local political parties, and given in proportion to a party's vote share at the preceding general election. Each party would nominate people who would then be chosen by a committee of people appointed by the Cabinet Office. Each recipient would receive a citation as to why they'd been chosen. That way it is both transparent and honourable.

If posthumous awards were made, Ernie Horth would be one of the first recipients.

Email Iain at or follow him on Twitter @iaindale