Banish ‘empire’ and make us all proud


The Sunday Times: Letters to the Editor published 27th Sept

You report featuring Benjamin Zephaniah’s refusal of an OBE, and that the word “empire” may be dropped from honours such as OBE (News, last week).

To be recognised by the state for your life’s work is humbling, deeply rewarding and, by definition, a great honour. Therefore no one should have to wrestle with whether or not they choose to accept it. I am proud to have been knighted by Her Majesty the Queen — an honour that contained no mention of the word “empire”.

For many, including me, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, to revere about the empire. It means slavery, murder, theft, barbaric cruelty and colonialism.

We cannot and must not attempt to erase our history, but we can choose which parts we put on a pedestal. Exchange the word “empire” for “excellence” and it becomes wonderfully inclusive.

Lord Woolley (formerly Sir Simon Woolley),
House of Lords,
London SW1