Saturday, January 01, 2022

Tony Blair awarded the Order of the Garter

The former Prime Minister Tony Blair has been appointed a Knight Companion of the Order of the Garter. It is England's highest order of chivalry and an honour in the Queen's personal gift. 

It has long been tradition for a retiring prime minister to be offered the Garter. Blair left office 13 years ago, in June, 2007. Of the Queen's prime ministers, Churchill [1953], Eden [1954], Wilson [1976], Callaghan [1987], Heath [1992], Thatcher [1995], Major [2005], and now Blair were all elevated to the Order of the Garter.

Anthony Eden, the Queen's second prime minister, holds the distinction of becoming a KG before taking office as premier. James Callaghan, who resigned in 1979, holds the distinction of accepting the accolade before his predecessor but one, Edward Heath, who resigned in 1974.

The Garter is limited to 24 non-royal Knights Companion. The new knights are invested at Windsor at the start of Royal Ascot week in June, and process from the castle to St George's Chapel in their splendid Garter robes.

Former Prime Ministers nearly always collect the Garter. Harold Macmillan declined the honour on his retirement in 1963, but accepted the Order of Merit and many years later an earldom. Alec Douglas-Home was already a Knight of the Order of the Thistle (Scotland's senior order of chivalry) when he became PM in 1963. Harold Wilson collected his Garter star and sash within weeks of his resignation in 1976, but Edward Heath waited 18 years after leaving Number 10 to receive his accolade. James Callaghan was dubbed after 8 years. Margaret Thatcher became a Lady of the Order in 1995, five years after being turned out of office, and her successor, John Major, collected his KG almost eight years after his resignation. The speed of their advancement depends on vacancies occurring, and their willingness to accept at any given time. It was reported over a decade ago that Blair had declined the honour, if only in the short term.

It is not known whether Blair's successor, Gordon Brown, declined the honour, but Brown, a Scot, is likely to be a candidate for the Order of the Thistle.

The appointment of Blair and Baroness Amos to the order brings the number of current knights/ladies to 21. Three vacancies remain. Will David Cameron, a distant cousin of the Queen, who stood down as PM in 2016, and Theresa May, who resigned in 2019, soon follow Blair, into the velvet robes and ostrich feathers? 


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