Recently knighted election guru Lynton Crosby has defended the bestowal of honours for political service after being named Australian of the Year in the UK.
The 58-year-old received the honour on Friday night at a ceremony at Australia House, saying it was recognition that Australians “punch above their weight in London”.
He was controversially knighted in the British New Year Honours List after masterminding the re-election of David Cameron’s Conservative government in May last year.
Sir Lynton, who has been dubbed the “Wizard of Oz”, previously helped Boris Johnson become mayor of London and was instrumental in former Australian prime minister John Howard’s run of four election victories.
His knighthood prompted accusations of political cronyism from the opposition Labour Party and calls in the British media for an overhaul of the honours system.
Sir Lynton told around 200 guests at Friday night’s dinner function that some people might say that honours shouldn’t be awarded for political service.
He said he had run election campaigns around the world including in Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and Iraq.
“When you get a phone call from your research team who are polling in Baghdad and four of them have been beheaded because they dared ask people how they might vote … you come to realise that while we can trivialise politics because it’s a very mature activity in countries like Britain and Australia, in many parts of the world it remains a very fragile and important thing.”
Sir Lynton said he was honoured to be recognised for his services to politics.
When asked if he preferred Sir Lynton to the “Wizard of Oz” he replied: “I prefer Lynton”.
He said Australia equipped its people to be persistent and straight speaking and its egalitarian nature enabled Australians abroad to deal with situations with confidence and determination.
“I think there’s a tolerance from the British towards the directness that Australians have, so perhaps you can sometimes get away with saying and doing things a little more directly and a little more forcefully.”
Australian High Commissioner Alexander Downer, who presented the award, said it was “entirely appropriate” for Sir Lynton to receive the Australia Day Foundation honour, and he also defended his knighthood.
“The fact is there is an Australian who is front and centre in the firmament of British politics,” said Mr Downer, a former foreign minister in the Howard government.
“At the end of the day he’s the man who crafted a campaign that has led to the existence of the present government in the UK and in that sense he’s a very important person.”