Why the Queen of New York Would Be Better off without Blair's Bauble

By Glover, Stephen | The Spectator, June 24, 2000 | Go to article overview

Why the Queen of New York Would Be Better off without Blair's Bauble


Glover, Stephen, The Spectator


Tina Brown, the magazine editor, may be Britain's most famous export to America. Normally the 'Queen of New York' cannot sneeze without it being reported in the British press. So it is very odd that our newspapers made so little of the award Ms Brown received in the recent Queen's birthday honours. Much excitement was generated by the knighthood for the actor Michael Caine, the dameship for the novelist Beryl Bainbridge, and the MBE for the 'television personality' Carol Vorderman. But the papers mostly ignored the CBE awarded for 'services to journalism overseas' to Christina Hambley Brown, more commonly known as Tina Brown. The Times, Daily Mail and Daily Express missed the honour altogether; the Guardian, Independent and Daily Telegraph noticed it, but buried the news at the bottom of long lists of lesser names, which suggests that while some humble sub-editors had sussed the identity of Christina Hambley Brown the really big wheels were unaware.

We all understand the vagaries of honours lists. Why, in this one, was Beryl Bainbridge made a dame while her equally distinguished (and somewhat older) fellow novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard had to make do with a CBE? But, granted the inbuilt injustices of the system, it still seemed an utter impertinence on the part of Tony Blair to offer my old friend Tina a mere CBE. The former editor of Vanity Fair and the New Yorker, and current supremo of Talk magazine, is not merely Britain's pride and joy in the United States. She also arranged extravagant parties for Mr Blair when he visited New York as an unknown leader of the opposition with an empty Rolodex. For all I know, it was Tina who threw Blair and Clinton together. That was no way to acknowledge what she had done for her country and the New Labour `project'. At the very least a dameship was called for. I understood why Tina had accepted the honour - Evelyn Waugh rejected a CBE and so never got a knighthood - but it was very mean of the Prime Minister to offer her so slight a bauble.

On further reflection another thought began to form. Was Tina right to accept an award at all? Should journalists in the full flow of their faculties allow themselves to be patronised in this way? The honours system bestows recognition on actors, businessmen and others who have toiled away in the far-flung reaches of the vineyard, and they appreciate being noticed. One can see why journalists should also yearn for this benediction. The trouble is that their role in relation to the government doling out awards is different from that of almost every other group. It may not be adversarial but it should be critical in the general sense of the word. A journalist who accepts an honour is liable to compromise his independence, at any rate in his own mind, which is presumably at least part of the government's intention in awarding it.

There are, of course, exceptions. Few of us would have complained if, at the end of a distinguished career as an editor, Stewart Steven of the London Evening Standard had been given the KBE he richly deserved by the ungrateful John Major, whose trembling hand he had held through so many traumatic sessions at No. 10. Equally, it seemed pardonable that in the autumn of their careers John Junor and Peregrine Worsthorne should have accepted their knighthoods. No one could really grumble when Bill Deedes, after stepping down as editor of the Daily Telegraph, was rewarded with a life peerage. …

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