Should Armando have accepted the OBE?

Chris Hallam thinks so

Should Armando Iannucci have accepted his OBE? Former Blair spin doctor Alastair Campbell certainly doesn’t think so.

‘So @ AIannucci OBE joins the Establishment he claims to deride,’ Campbell tweeted. ‘Malcolm Tucker and I do not approve of honours system.’

Armando defended himself.  ‘If you accept any awards or prizes then why not this one?’ he has said to the Observer. ‘It is good manners to accept and then bad manners to crow about it afterwards.’

This is fair enough. But manners? Surely a satirical Rottweiler of political savagery like Iannucci should hardly be worried about offending anyone?

Has Iannucci then ‘sold out’? As the creator of The Thick Of It and the US political comedy hit Veep, nobody is denying he deserves the honour, only whether he should have accepted it. Conservative broadcaster Andrew Neil joined the fray argued: ‘Why would somebody who constantly parades their anti-Establishment credentials accept such a bauble?’

There are a few precedents. David Frost made his name as the scourge of the establishment in TV’s That Was The Week That Was in the early Sixties. He accepted an OBE in 1970 and a knighthood in 1997. He is now, of course, a pillar of the establishment. Yet the link is unproven. Frost was already established as a serious journalist by 1970. By 1997, many people had forgotten he had even had a comedy career in the first place, or had never known.

Others have declined honours later in their careers. Ex-Python John Cleese declined a CBE saying it was ‘silly’ and rejected a life peerage in 1996. Alan Bennett declined a knighthood in the same year. Even French and Saunders, both figures on the left, but far less political than Iannucci has been, turned down OBEs in 2001.

Despite Campbell’s disapproval of the honours system, the Blair government he was such a key part of failed reform the honours system. And his reason why is remarkably feeble. ‘People may ask why we did not change it while we had the chance, but the truth is that Tony Blair did not see it as a priority and he was the Prime Minister.’ The second longest-serving Prime Minister of the last century, who commanded large majorities for a full decade, somehow never ‘found the time’ for this issue.

Alistair Campbell – who seemed easily rattled by Ian Hislop during his recent hosting of Have I Got News For You – has always claimed to admire Iannucci’s work.

In fact, this public criticism of his accepting the honour smacks less of a genuine or valid argument that with irritation at the success of a writer who by creating Malcolm Tucker has so effectively and brilliantly lampooned Campbell’s own methods and career.,

Besides, the most valid point had already been made. ‘I hope it’s not an attempt by Government to stop me because that’s not going to happen,’ said Iannucci.

And this is surely the key point. Iannucci’s satire has targeted Labour and Tory alike for more than 20 years. He has never (to my knowledge) demonstrated any inclination towards republicanism or strong hostility to the honours system.

Provided the OBE doesn’t blunt his satirical edge, he has nothing to be ashamed about in accepting the award.

Published: 17 Jun 2012

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