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Politicians need to spend less time looking at polls and more time talking to voters, says veteran Australian political strategist Lynton Crosby.
Sir Lynton was named the UK's Australian of the Year on Saturday night in London, just weeks after he was controversially knighted for his role in masterminding the Conservatives' return to power in 2015.
He made a rare public appearance to accept the award, at a gala dinner at Australia House in London attended by hundreds of successful Australian expatriates.
The audience included one who wouldn't have been so keen to celebrate Sir Lynton's success: member of parliament Caroline West, now Labour's shadow foreign minister.
Sir Lynton said it was an honour to receive the award – "the thing about Australians in London is they seem to punch above their weight in all sorts of walks of life from theatre to business and even to politics". It was for others to judge why he received this award – and the knighthood – he said, but hinted at his role in the election as one reason – "in the last year or so … an Australian has had some impact on what's gone on in this country".
The election win was "quite a highlight", he said. "It was a tough election." The British media were intense and partisan, he said, "so it's a very aggressive environment in which you're operating so that makes it tough. But every election is a hard fight and the 2015 election was no different in that respect".
He lamented that polls had multiplied in number and had become a "part of the political process".
Before the election last May, polls had predicted either a Labour win or a hung parliament, not the sweeping win for the Conservatives that took place.
"I always was confident that David Cameron would be prime minister and that we could win the election," Sir Lynton said.
"Opinion polls have a place, a role to play in politics but sometimes I think people have abdicated responsibility to look at the issues and talk to voters themselves to get a true picture of what is going on." He said he didn't prefer to be called "Sir Lynton" — or "the Wizard of Oz" as he has also been dubbed.
"I prefer Lynton." Sir Lynton defended his knighthood, which was attacked from some quarters as evidence of 'cronyism' in the New Year Honours lists.
"You'll always get your critics but you've just got to be confident in your own contribution and satisfied with that," he said. Many others who'd contributed to UK politics had received similar honours, he said.
High Commissioner Alexander Downer said he hoped to be at the royal palace this year when Sir Lynton is formally invested in his knighthood, in the traditional sword-on-the-shoulders ceremony.
"This is an example of an Australian doing incredibly well here in the UK," he said.
Mr Downer said Sir Lynton had been a "hugely important person in Australian politics over many years" and last year "crafted a campaign that led to the existence of the present government in the UK".
"He and I both started off together in the Liberal party in South Australia pretty much back in the dark ages. He has made a great career here in the UK. They had a very historic win in May last year and the campaign that Lynton Crosby and his team put together was a great credit to him.
"There is an Australian front and centre in the firmament of British politics. It shows Australians are skilled and inventive people who are able to do all sorts of different jobs here and do them exceptionally well. Jobs that apparently the British aren't able to do." The awards are voted by the committee and board of directors of the Australia Day Foundation, a non-profit organisation formed to promote Australia in the UK.
Australia Day Foundation Director, Bill Muirhead said: "The Australia Day Foundation is delighted to give Lynton this award. A world leader in his profession and a great Australian, we are pleased to recognise his contribution here in the UK." Celebrity chef Rick Stein was named Honorary Australian of the Year in the UK.
He opened 'Rick Stein at Bannisters' in Mollymook in 2009, and now divides his time between Australia and the UK.
Saxophonist Amy Dickson was named 2016 Young Australian Achiever of the Year Previous Australian of the Year in the UK winners include Kylie Minogue, Clive James and Barry Humphries.