Why Geoffrey Boycott should keep his knighthood

In a civilised society, we don’t punish people forever for their past mistakes.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill

Topics Politics UK

There is something disturbing about the outcry over cricket legend Geoffrey Boycott’s knighthood. Whatever happened to the idea of redemption? To the belief that people who do wrong, even people who commit horrible crimes, deserve a second chance? In the fury over Boycott’s award, we can see how unforgiving and authoritarian 21st-century society has become, and how far it has turned its back on the once celebrated, progressive idea that you should not punish people forever for their crimes and misdemeanours.

Boycott’s crime is that he battered his then partner Margaret Moore at a hotel in the south of France in 1996. He was convicted in a French court, fined £5,000 and given a suspended three-month prison sentence. He has always claimed to be innocent, but his claims are unconvincing, to say the least. He says Moore fell down and hit her head on a marble floor. Anyone who has seen the photos of her bruised and bloated face will not believe that. Indeed, a French appeal court did not believe it: in 1998, Boycott lost his bid to overturn his conviction.

So he did something terrible. He used violence against another person, someone he was intimate with. That is a dreadful crime. But must he be punished forever? Boycott has already paid a high price for his crime, as is right. He was fined, given a prison sentence (suspended), given a criminal record, and deprived of work for a few years. For example, he lost his Sun column and he was temporarily dumped as a cricket commentator by the BBC. More than 20 years later, must he still be cast out? Must he still be known as the man who hit his partner? Perhaps his forehead should be branded with the letter ‘A’ so that everyone knows he is an assaulter.

No sooner had Theresa May’s honours list been unveiled than the fury about Boycott exploded. Women’s Aid said ‘celebrating a man who has been convicted for assaulting his partner sends a dangerous message’. But of course, Boycott is not being celebrated for his crime. He is being celebrated for his contribution to sport and his charity work. Is all that stuff, the work of his life, rendered immaterial and unimportant by his commission of a crime 23 years ago? Is it not a little medieval to judge someone entirely by a single act of wrongdoing rather than by their achievements and their contribution to society?

A Guardian columnist asks why May has knighted ‘someone convicted of domestic assault’. But all sorts of scoundrels are honoured by Britain’s ridiculous, archaic gong system. Sir Robert Mugabe, for example. Mussolini. Ceausescu. I think even the most virtuous of signallers will agree that those people did worse things than Boycott. Shock, horror – the honours system is a bit bonkers. But the rescinding of Boycott’s knighthood would nonetheless set a worrying precedent because it would grate against a key belief in civilised, just societies: that wrongdoers can be redeemed, ex-cons can re-enter society, and individuals should be judged in the round rather than simply by their awful mistakes.

We have become an unforgiving society. From feminists agitating for footballers convicted of a crime to be shunned by polite society to the boycotting of Chris Brown’s music, the old, backward idea that certain criminals must never be forgiven has taken hold again. The worrying thing is that while this severe, misanthropic thinking was once most prominent on the law-and-order right, now it is a key feature of supposedly ‘progressive’ campaigning. It is now feminists, liberals and other do-gooders who want certain ex-cons to spend their entire lives in the shadows. They might dress up their turn against redemption in PC-sounding, pro-women language, but it is still a nasty and illiberal attitude.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: Getty.

Rod Liddle and Brendan O’Neill in conversation at Podcast Live!

Rod Liddle and Brendan O'Neill
– live in London

Podcast Live

Podcast Live, Friends House, London, NW1 2BJ – 5 October 2019, 2.30pm-3.30pm

To get tickets, click the button below, then scroll down to The Brendan O'Neill Show logo on the Podcast Live page.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


Jason Smith

14th September 2019 at 12:12 am

Interesting argument. Do you think a paedophile who has been convicted of raping a child should also be able to work as a primary school teacher a few years after serving their sentence?

I presume you do, given your logic.

Neil McCaughan

12th September 2019 at 6:14 pm

“A Guardian Columnist”
Is the snide (she probably spells it snyde) Marina Hyde, the daughter of Sir Alastair Edgcumbe James Dudley-Williams and the granddaughter of Conservative politician Sir Rolf Dudley-Williams. She attended Downe House School,[2] and read English at Christ Church, Oxford

And if that sounds like something Titania McGrath made up, on this occasion, she didn’t.

Ven Oods

12th September 2019 at 2:49 pm

“In a civilised society, we don’t punish people forever for their past mistakes.”

In a civilised society, people wouldn’t be getting knighthoods (or peerages) at the whim of useless (outgoing) politicians.

It’s a system that’s saddled us with Lords Archer and Kinnock, (not forgetting ‘Sir’ Cyril Smith).

Ed Turnbull

12th September 2019 at 1:15 pm

What’s the betting that many of those calling for Boycott to be deprived of a knighthood are the self same idiots calling for Shamima Begum to be forgiven and allowed back into the UK? Moral and intellectual consistency isn’t a strong suit of these people.

david hyatt

13th September 2019 at 10:57 am

Keith many thanks for this Telegraph article! Brendan I hope you have read that and apologise for maligning the greatest living Yorkshire man!

Amin Readh

12th September 2019 at 1:43 am

You cannot have it both way O’Neill. Boycott, despite being guilty, as you’ve pointed out, never admitted to his crime. So how can there be redemption?

“But must he be punished forever?” Which he hasn’t been. Few years work and a light fine and he has ever since done well. When does this even come up?

A guardian article and few twitters here and there, who cares?

“the old, backward idea that certain criminals must never be forgiven”

Well, yes. Depends entirely on the crime. Mass Murder? How do you forgive that? And then there is repugnance attached to paedophilia, is that ever going to go?

Jim Balaya

12th September 2019 at 1:25 am

When I think of a knight I think of a brave fearless warrior.
When I think of Boycott, I think of a coward that was too terrified to face Lillee and Thomson.
Thats why he shouldn’t be knighted!

Angus Black

12th September 2019 at 12:13 am

The only question in my mind is when the entirely justified canonisation process will begin…

Angus Black

12th September 2019 at 12:11 am

Geoffrey Boycott’s knighthood was (although it should fairly have been an hereditary Dukedom) the only good call Teresa May made in her political career.


11th September 2019 at 8:20 pm

Geoffrey Boycott is a very Brexitish man.

Amin Readh

12th September 2019 at 1:19 am


jessica christon

11th September 2019 at 7:31 pm

The US commentator Candace Owens (if you don’t know her, look her up on YouTube, she’s nothing less than brilliant), says that the closest thing she ever saw to White supremacy is feminism – and she’s 100% right.

Feminists are pushing a female supremacist agenda that works just like an apartheid system where men are inferior and have less rights. So it becomes ok for women to hit men, while a man hitting a woman must be made into a social parariah for life, as the unfortunately named Boycott is finding out now (you may not believe me, but I always thought his name was foretelling of something just like this).

I don’t like the honours system, it’s more of a DIShonours system and even as far as that goes Teresa May’s list is probably one of the worst in recent times. However, within that system there’s no good reason not to give Boycott the knighthood.

Amin Readh

12th September 2019 at 1:28 am

@ jessica christon

Yet, Boycott never was or has been such a social outcast. And Candance Owen is plain outright dumb. I doubt she would score 100 in an iq test.

jessica christon

12th September 2019 at 2:07 pm

@ Amin: JB had pretty much vanished from the public eye for many years before now so that’s protected him from pariahdom – up until now. But in the Me Too era a man can never be free of a past transgression against a woman, so now he’s about to be honoured even at this stage in his life and 20+years after the conviction, the media outrage machine goes into action against him.

And as for Candace Owens many people disagree with her because she isn’t in the business of pandering to woke sensibilites, but she’s an incredibly intelligent young lady and I doubt you can give any examples of her saying something baseless.

steve moxon

11th September 2019 at 7:11 pm

He was set up in a bid to blackmail him for £1million.
The superficial injuries as so often is the case even in rape cases were likely self-inflicted.
If he was responsible there would be at least some sort of evidence of intimate-partner aggression towards other women, and there is zilch.
He’s as outspoken as they come, and has no bones about coming clean about anything.

Jerry Owen

11th September 2019 at 6:32 pm

Knighthoods are of no importance now, just like the Nobel peace prize.
Baubles handed out by the powerful to the powerful by and large.
Perhaps before giving out a knighthood they need to check the nominees private life for misdemeanors and perhaps check their family tree lest there be slave owners in the dim an distant past.

T Zazoo

12th September 2019 at 2:07 am

It’s time to boycott the whole awards thing.

James Knight

11th September 2019 at 6:22 pm

Doesn’t redemption require he admit his guilt?

steve moxon

11th September 2019 at 7:04 pm

He wasn’t guilty: she was.

Dominic Straiton

11th September 2019 at 5:16 pm

The new religion lacks redemption. Im a heretic.

Danny Rees

11th September 2019 at 4:52 pm

It’s highly amusing as two years ago Boycott said he would need to “black up” to get a knighthood.

Two years later he actually got a knighthood.

Without having to black up.



Warren Alexander

11th September 2019 at 4:25 pm

The last time I looked, it was the 21st century so surely the real question is why do we still bestow such antediluvian honours on anyone? Isn’t it time we got rid of such nonsenses?

James Hillier

11th September 2019 at 4:05 pm

The people shouting loudest about Geoffrey Boycott’s knighthood said nothing, nothing at all when it was revealed that Sarah Champion — Shadow Minister for Domestic Violence, for goodness sake — had once been arrested for assaulting her husband. They had nothing to say when it was revealed that Liberal Democrat leadership contender Layla Moran once slapped her boyfriend in an argument over a lost computer cable. Nor did they issue even a peep of protest when Ms Moran did the media rounds minimising what she did and implying that her boyfriend was somehow partly responsible for provoking her into hitting him. This being the case, there is no reason for the rest of us to take these hypocrites and sexists seriously, or listen to them at all.

Danny Rees

11th September 2019 at 4:53 pm

Yeah the feminists are hypocrites.

steve moxon

11th September 2019 at 7:16 pm

No to mention rabid hate-mongering totalitarian bigots, and that the c word is far too good for ’em.

Identity Redacted

11th September 2019 at 3:47 pm

It’s only when the prospective honoured have committed a crime against women that there’s a problem. If they honoured a woman convicted of domestic abuse or assault these activists wouldn’t care

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to comment. Log in or Register now.