It’s been a hard day’s knight for Sir Ringo Starr

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The late John Lennon famously returned his MBE back in 1969 – apparently his letter saying he didn’t want it is now worth £60,000.

The award itself is still mouldering in a filing cabinet somewhere, the ultimate unwanted Christmas present.

But Paul McCartney, who is both a knight and an MBE, had no such qualms, and neither did Sir Mick Jagger – who, however, has had to endure endless ribbing from Ronnie Wood for appearing to join the ranks of respectable society. You have to sympathise with the old devil. Ringo, at 77, has had to wait an awful long time for his honour but, according to tabloid speculation, may make the most of his historic meeting with the Queen by arriving in his old pink Sergeant Pepper outfit.

Some marvellous people (including Ringo) are honoured this year – and so, for no apparent reason – are politicians including, bizarrely, no-luck former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg.

They are all being officially recognised as all-round great folk to command affection and respect as knights, barons, members and commanders (or whatever) of the British Empire.

Apart from the odd choices among the throng, the enduring mystery is the notion of “empire” itself.

The House of Lords is frequently attacked as obsolete and anti-democratic but it’s a beacon of progressive thinking compared to the days when Britain waived the rules and launched the Opium Wars, expropriated South Africa, enslaved India ... and all the rest. Congrats to Sir Ringo, but surely it’s high time we put the Empire where it belongs – in the dusty pages of a history laden with guilt and greed.