Gongs, politicians and gold medals - the honours system

It was one of the more surprising questions Tony Blair has been asked during his political career, particularly as the interviewer was John Humphrys.

"If you could swap with [Andy] Murray," he asked the former prime minister, "what you've done for what he's done, would you do that?"

Mr Blair's response was swift. "Yeah, for sure."

Perhaps we shouldn't have been surprised by the answer from someone who was once the lead singer in a rock band.

Mr Blair is also a keen tennis player, as is David Cameron, who is hosting Andy Murray in Downing Street this afternoon. Mr Cameron has already suggested that he can think of no-one more deserving of a knighthood than the new Wimbledon champion. He doubtless believes this is about society recognising achievements that bring people together rather than politicians trying to associate themselves with success.

You may be able to come up with more deserving causes than a multi-millionaire whose brilliance has already been well-rewarded, but the prime minister's comments highlight the changing honours system.

Britain's last Wimbledon singles champion - Virginia Wade - was appointed OBE nine years after her 1977 victory. (She won £13,500 in prize money; Andy Murray won £1.6m yesterday).

Welsh politicians have queued up to suggest Warren Gatland be given a knighthood after the Test series victory in Australia.

So is it easier to get a gong these days? I posed the question on twitter. Wales Office Minister Stephen Crabb suggested it might be "recognition of the huge role that sport now plays in our national life".

He may have a point. England's world cup winning footballers had to wait more than 30 years to get OBEs for their 1966 win. Andy Murray was appointed OBE within months of winning Olympic gold and the US Open last year.

The wider recognition may be nice for sports people although I suspect few would swap gold for a gong.

The role of politicians is increasingly recognised in the honours system too. The creation of the parliamentary and political service committee - with a membership that includes three chief whips - means elected politicians now feature regularly in honours lists.

It has led to a situation where the Liberal Democrats at Westminster now have as many knights as they have women. The Lib Dem MP and AM for Brecon and Radnorshire have both been appointed CBE - the same honour given to Mo Farah after he won double Olympic gold last year. Three of the last four leaders of the Welsh Liberal Democrats ended up in the House of Lords (Lord Opik is still waiting for the call) although peers are expected to work for their honour.

So how do you compare achievements in politics or public service (which some would say is its own reward) with those on the rugby pitch or athletics track? This government guide explains what you need to do to get a particular gong. People become a dame or knight "for having a major contribution in any activity, usually at national level. Other people working in the nominee's area will see their contribution as inspirational and significant, requiring commitment over a long period of time."

But there was another reason - besides the sporting glory - Tony Blair would have swapped lives with Andy Murray. "Then I'd have the 10 past 8 slot on the Today programme," said Mr Blair, as keenly aware as ever of the "awards" dished out by the media.