IT is an area that has rarely produced cabinet ministers and never spawned a prime minister.

Yet Dorset and the New Forest seem to have a lot of MPs with knighthoods.

Two out of Dorset’s eight MPs currently have “Sir” before their name – and there were three before the 2019 general election. Meanwhile, the New Forest has one knighted MP among its two.

But what are knighthoods awarded for and what difference does it make to the person receiving them?


Honours are given by the Queen, on the advice of the prime minster.

When it comes to honouring politicians, all the parties in Westminster make recommendations. Like all honours, they are then subjected to a somewhat opaque vetting process by a dedicated committee before a decision is reached.

When such honours are announced, the list tends only to say that the recipient is being recognised for “political and parliamentary service” – but the outsider might naturally wonder what that means.

Bournemouth Echo:

Poole MP Sir Robert Syms

Sir Robert Syms, who received his knighthood in 2017, suggests the honours system “rewards people who have given up other areas of life for long service in Parliament”.

“When you go into public life, it’s a great privilege but you also give up quite a lot. You lose privacy – you only have to be on Twitter for 10 minutes to realise the difficulties people can get in public life,” he says.

“It’s some signal that the people at the top realise you’ve done a good job.

“There’s an element of long service but also sometimes you get given jobs which are quite heavy duty.”

Arise! Sir Robert Syms: Poole MP honoured with a knighthood

In Sir Robert’s case, the award most likely recognised the time he had spent chairing the committee that scrutinised the legislation involved with HS2, the high-speed rail link from London to the North.

The government not only needed someone who would accept the workload of that role, but also an MP whose constituency was not set to gain or lose significantly from the decisions involved.

“A lot of people don’t want to do that, they say ‘This will affect my career and I can’t do this’,” he says.

“For 20 months, you’re signing up to work in a committee room.”

At the time of Sir Robert’s knighthood, Theresa May’s government was struggling on without a majority in Parliament. Sir Robert had recently been a government whip, while the other MP knighted at the same time, Mike Penning, had been a minister.

Mark Wallace, of the website Conservative Home, wrote at the time: “It’s perhaps not overly cynical to conclude that, in addition to recognising their public service, these honours are intended to soften the blow somewhat, at a time when the Commons arithmetic makes it particularly important to ensure the happiness of as many Conservative MPs as possible.”

Bournemouth Echo:

New Forest West MP Sir Desmond Swayne

New Forest West MP Sir Desmond Swayne became a knight in the Birthday Honours of 2016, the month before he ceased to be minister for international development and shortly before David Cameron’s resignation. Sir Desmond has not held a front bench position since.

Sir Desmond had been Mr Cameron’s parliamentary private secretary and, despite his hard line position on many issues, had backed Mr Cameron’s support of gay marriage, renouncing his own previous “antediluvian prejudices” on the matter.

Knighthoods are 'light way' for Cameron to pay his 'debts of honour' says Sir Desmond Swayne

In response to the Echo’s approach on the subject of knighthoods, Sir Desmond said: “I suggest you look up the citations that were published.”

Notes issued to accompany the “high awards” at the time observed that he had held his seat at five general elections, had served as a minister and shadow minister, and been parliamentary private secretary to two Tory leaders. “He has made a contribution to parliamentary process as a member of a number of committees including the Ecclesiastical Committee, the Defence Committee, the Social Security Committee and the Scottish Affairs Committee. He continues to serve as a Territorial Army officer, which he joined in 1978, and he was deployed to Iraq from July to December 2003,” the notes said.


Bournemouth Echo:

Christchurch MP Sir Christopher Chope

Christchurch MP Sir Christopher Chope’s knighthood was sufficiently controversial for Theresa May to be questioned about it on national TV.

Andrew Marr wanted to know why the the-prime minister was knighting someone who had blocked attempts to make ‘upskirting’ a specific offence, ban animals in circuses and issue a posthumous pardon for the computer scientist and code breaker Alan Turing, convicted of indecency for a gay relationship.

Christchurch MP Chris Chope receives knighthood in the New Year’s Honours list

Mrs May replied that the government had introduced some of the measures Sir Chris had objected to and that he had been an MP for many years.

A petition at, demanding Sir Chris be stripped of the knighthood, attracted more than 4,000 signatures. Petitions on Parliament's website were not enough to force a debate in the Commons, because Parliament rejects petitions on the subject of individual honours.

Christchurch MP Christopher Chope: I DO support upskirting ban

Sir Chris has always insisted that he objects in principle to Private Members’ Bills being passed through the Commons without sufficient scrutiny. He said he found upskirting in to be "vulgar, humiliating and unacceptable”.

By knighting Sir Chris and others, Mrs May also laid herself open to criticisms that she was trying to sweeten members of her party’s pro-Brexit “awkward squad” with honours.

“All I know is that I received a letter inviting me to accept this honour, which I accepted,” Sir Chris says today.

“It’s an honour and that’s a reflection on the fact that somebody somewhere earlier has recommended you.

“I accepted it with enthusiasm. My wife and I and two children had a wonderful day out at Windsor.”


Bournemouth Echo:

Former Bournemouth West MP Sir John Butterfill

On the face of it, it seems as though being in Parliament for approximately 20 years increases the chance that you will be knighted.

Chris Chope was made a knight in 2018, after two decades representing Christchurch. (He had previously represented Southampton Itchen for nine years.)

When Desmond Swayne was knighted in 2016, he had spent 19 years as the member for New Forest West.

When Robert Syms was honoured in 2017, he had spent two decades representing Poole in the Commons.

And Oliver Letwin, MP for West Dorset until the last general election, felt the sword on his shoulder in 2016, after 19 years’ service.

Among a previous generation of politicians, it was similar story: Bournemouth West’s John Butterfill was knighted in 2003, after 20 years in Parliament, and Patrick McNair-Wilson took ‘Sir’ before his name after two decades as MP for the old New Forest seat in 1989. The late John Ward of Poole was knighted in 1997, but only after standing down after 18 years of service.

Sir Robert Syms points out that it is easier to achieve a long parliamentary career in Dorset than in many places. All of its seats are currently safe for the Conservatives – and only a few of them have ever been in the hands of another party in modern times.

“If Dorset was full of marginal seats, and the same with the New Forest, than you would not have three or four people who were knights,” says Sir Robert.

“It’s the fact that Poole has been Tory pretty much since 1929 and the New Forest pretty much forever and Christchurch too, apart from a brief byelection. It’s because you’ve got long-serving Tory MPs.”


The knighthood brings with it no privileges beyond the fact that the MP can use the “Sir” prefix and his wife has “Lady” put in front of her name. (The nearest equivalent for a woman, incidentally, is to become a Dame – an honour given to Mid-Dorset and North Poole’s Liberal Democrat MP Annette Brooke when she stood down.)

“You can at least take your knighthood back to wherever your retirement cottage is,” says Sir Robert Syms.

As for the proud day of the ceremony with the Queen, he notes: “It’s a bit like getting married because you have to spend a fortune on photographs afterwards.”