2016 is shaping up to be a happy old year. David Cameron is back partying with Rupert and Rebecca. Once again the UK is woefully unprepared for flooding. It’s business as usual on the trading floor as a long-awaited banking enquiry is shelved. And it just wouldn’t be New Year without the honours system being pronounced as an outdated, cronyist institution.
"Outrageous" proclaimed Andy ‘forget me not’ Burnham on the investiture of Sir Lynton Crosby, the election PR supremo who snatched a Conservative victory from the polls of defeat.
From these levels of shock and disgust you’d think former knight of the realm Fred Goodwin had been appointed Chief Secretary to the Treasury. The honours stopped being relevant when Britain moved from colonial power to modern European state. To think the club that once counted Jimmy Savile and Robert Mugabe as members is held in any high moral regard is to be living in Ruritania.
Honours are about either making us feel good about ourselves – a pat on the back to our national treasures – or, as in Sir Lynton’s case, settling accounts. The rhetoric that goes with the award has to maintain some of the flimflam. Sir Lynton’s services to a democracy he’s never cast a vote in extend as far as picking up a £500k salary. But then what of Dame Barbara Windsor’s services to the arts?
Sir Lynton’s approach to elections (let’s not mention his role in Stephen Harper’s unsuccessful re-election bid in October) demonstrates an ability to tap into the preoccupations of the moment and relentlessly pursue target voters. In this he is world-class – just as Bradley Wiggins is at riding bikes or John Hurt at authoritative voiceovers.
The only reason Sir Lynton’s award raises eyebrows is due to that sense of disdain we Brits have towards honouring that most shabby of services: the spinner. It’s only because he is so renowned for his role that Alastair Campbell has yet to be honoured. (He may protest that he doesn’t want one, but that’s what we commoners always say.) There’s no worse PR for the establishment than to be seen to be awarding good PR.
If they’re a national joke, why is it that there are companies who offer honour recommendation letters for upwards of $20,000?
While the brand may be broke for a younger generation, internationally there’s still enormous value from having letters after your name. As business leaders such as Sir Andrew Witty of GSK and former spin doctor Lord Bell can testify, you can expect to see your salary double within a few years of being honoured. Sir Lynton’s fees have already started to creep up to the levels charged by US campaign gurus Jim Messina and Matt Rhoades. The honour is a vindication of his global brand: a noble knight with a common touch.
Mark Borkowski is founder of Borkowski.do