Lynton Crosby. Photo: Janie BarrettBritain’s “Crosby flap” has developed into a national cringe over its royal honours system, which is being denounced as “borderline corrupt” cronyism that rewards friends and donors to the Conservative Party.
The outcry began last weekend, when news leaked to The Sunday Times that Australian political mastermind Lynton Crosby, who led the Conservatives to a smashing general election win in 2015, was to be made a knight in the New Year’s honours list.
But it reached new heights on Thursday with the publication of the full list of 1196 knights, dames, OBEs, MBEs and BEMs.
Most of the recipients were community volunteers, such as 13-year-old Jonjo Heuerman from Kent, who raised more than £200,000 for cancer research, partly by dribbling a football up and down a pitch for five days; or 99-year-old Dorothy Start, who worked for charities and community groups (and ran regular bake sales) in Barnet, Hertfordshire.
But some names on the list have aroused anger.
The Independent called it “the New Year Cronies list”, and the Daily Mail said the honours had been “tainted”.
“Sex shop queen is handed a CBE, boss of shambolic tax office made a Dame, gongs for cronies, donors and bungling bureaucrats,” it complained on its front page.
The “sex shop queen” is businesswoman Jacqueline Gold, who won a CBE for “services to entrepreneurship, women in business and social enterprise” as head of the Ann Summers empire – purveyor of skimpy lingerie, Rampant Rabbit sex toys and bondage kits.
Ms Gold, who is worth almost a quarter of a billion pounds, is a long-standing donor to the Conservatives. In February she attended a £1500-a-head (or £15,000 to sit near a minister) fundraiser for the party at the Mayfair Hotel.
She also appeared with Chancellor George Osborne at a pre-election press conference in which she said it was “essential” the Conservatives were in power.
Another gong winner was Christopher Fenwick, who can add an OBE to his name for “political service”. Mr Fenwick is a retail multi-millionaire who has given money personally to the Conservatives, as well as helping run the low profile “United & Cecil Club”, which funnels money from anonymous donors to the Conservatives to fight marginal seats.
And multi-millionaire Zameer Choudrey, whose Bestway retailer was reported to have donated nearly half a million pounds to the Conservatives, became a CBE.
Gold, Fenwick and Choudrey were among 30 Conservative Party members or supporters who received awards.
Labour’s shadow home secretary, Andy Burnham, told The Independent: “This outrageous award is the clearest evidence yet that the Tories think they can get away with whatever they like.”
Labour MP John Mann told The Times, “It stinks… it’s cronyism at its worst”, while anti-monarchy campaigner Graham Smith called it “borderline corrupt – it’s clearly being used to repay favours and scratch backs”.
Labour MP Graham Jones said: “The honours system is supposed to recognise dedicated public service, not simply be a vehicle to reward Tory cronies and donors. David Cameron should take care not to undermine the integrity of the system.”
But Sir Jonathan Stephens, chairman of the Honours Committee, which vetted the list, said only 26 of the 1196 gongs were awarded for political services. Each honour was awarded on merit, he said.
There was also new debate over the number of awards for public servants for just doing their job. According to a tally in The Times, 136 civil servants were nominated for awards, about the same number as the past two honours lists put together. This was not even taking into account police officers, military personnel or council employees.
Dorothy Brown, for example, won a gong for “services to taxpayers” – she was director of personal tax operations at HM Revenue and Customs.
A particular target of the Daily Mail’s ire was Lin Homer, now a dame in the Order of the Bath, an honour exclusive to civil servants and diplomats, which was recommended for abolition in a 2004 review.
She was cited “for public service particularly to public finance” But the Mail dubbed Ms Homer “Dame Disaster”, claiming that during her 35-year career she “presided over failures in the immigration system and (now) runs the shambolic UK tax office”.
Knighthoods were occasionally awarded by kings on the battlefield to recognise particular bravery, chivalry or success, though the government has been quiet on which of these applied to Mr Crosby on the electoral front line. The official citation said he was “the central figure in the [Conservative] party’s electoral successes over the last decade. He also pioneered the campaign for Australian Prime Minister John Howard in 1998 and 2001.”
These days a knighthood is conferred for “significant contributions to national life”.
The knight-elect kneels on a knighting-stool in front of the Queen (or another royal), who lays a sword blade on the knight’s right, then left shoulder. Contrary to popular belief, they do not then say “Arise, sir…”
A palace spokesman said it was too early to say when, where, or from whom Mr Crosby will receive his knighthood.
The Queen, Prince William, Prince Charles and Princess Anne all have the power to conduct investiture ceremonies, which are held at various times through the year at Windsor Castle and in Scotland.
However, Mr Crosby is already officially “Sir Lynton” – the knighthood applied as soon as it was announced and the investiture is a ceremonial acknowledgement.
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