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CentreForum’s Liberal Heroes and occasional Villains: a personal selection of the best

CentreForum’s Liberal Heroes and occasional Villains: a personal selection of the best

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Published by Stephen Tall
Stephen Tall's pick of the best of the regular CentreForum series, Liberal Heroes.
Stephen Tall's pick of the best of the regular CentreForum series, Liberal Heroes.

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Published by: Stephen Tall on Jan 04, 2014
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 CentreForum’s Liberal Heroes and occasional Villains: a personal selection
(as chosen by Stephen Tall)
 The idea for a weekly series of Liberal Heroes sprang from a conversation I had in 2012  with Paul Marshall, Chair of CentreForum's Management Board. And like most ideas, it  was stolen. For some time,
The Sun 
 had been publishing a weekly series of Heroes and Villains, usually politicians who’d taken up a cause Rupert Murdoch agreed with dear to the newspaper’s readers. I wanted to offer a counterbalance, recognising those who stood up for liberal values – regardless of the political party they represent, if any.  Those values are unashamedly those offered up within David Laws’ introduction to
The Orange Book
: economic, personal, political and social liberalism. To date, I’ve selected 56 Liberal Heroes, drawn from all parties and none. I’ve also thrown the occasional Liberal Villain into the mix – though, to be honest, I find these harder: I prefer carrot to stick, praise to admonition. I don’t hide that I’m a Lib Dem. However, when writing for CentreForum I try and set those loyalties to one side and celebrate liberalism wherever it’s found. Naturally, readers don’t always agree with my choices (I doubt all my CentreForum colleagues do either).  What follows is also a personal selection, but one chosen to try and be in some way representative of the entire series. I hope you enjoy dipping into it.
Stephen Tall
Co-Editor, Liberal Democrat Voice Research Associate, CentreForum  January 2014
 You can view our complete list of heroes and villains at http://centreforumblog.wordpress.com/category/liberal-hero-villain. Nominations are welcome via email (sjftall@gmail.com) or Twitter (@stephentall).
Liberal Hero of the Week #7 – Danny Boyle
 JULY 29, 2012
Danny Boyle
British film director and producer, Artistic Director for the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games, titled The Isles of Wonder.
Reason: for celebrating the optimistic potential of citizens and society.
 For weeks before, when talking with Olympisceptic friends who were anticipating the London 2012 opening ceremony with unconcealed cynicism, I  would simply reply, “In Danny Boyle we trust.” It never seemed likely that the award-winning director of  Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire and the spell-binding Frankenstein would disappoint. He didn’t, and he didn’t in some style. Of course it was a ‘political’ ceremony: this was, after all, an attempt to present a snapshot celebration of Britian’s history, her present and her potential future. How could such a cultural tableau, beamed to a global billion, avoid being political? It didn’t, and it didn’t in some style. Danny Boyle’s spectacular has inevitably faced criticism, with
 Tory MP Aiden Burley dismissing
 as “leftie multi-cultural crap”. He’s well within his rights to speak his, erm, mind. Those calling on him to apologise for expressing his opinion appear to have a rather different view of what Britain represents — freedom to dissent, freedom to speak — than I do. In any case, it’s clear he represents a particular form of Daily Mail-mindset, as that newspaper’s
online reader comments
 demonstrate. Mr Burley’s critique, though, is distinctly odd. Why? Because Danny Boyle’s vision just doesn’t suit a simplistic left/right prism. Sure, it lauded the NHS as a symbol of universal healthcare free at the point of use (a sound liberal principle, by the way). Yet it also celebrated the economic energy unleashed by the industrial revolution, with the indolently bucolic, pastoral Britain making way for the powerful pandemonium of the steam-driven inventiveness of Brunel’s urban Britain and the limitlessly connected potential of Berners-Lee’s world-wide web.  This was no paean to ‘leftie’ Levellers, nor was it a glib condemnation of capitalism’s ‘dark satanic mills’. It  was far more nuanced than that. Everyone will have their own version of what the opening ceremony conveyed personally to them. For me it was two key things. First, the human potentiality which has formed Britain, made her what she is today: from music to immigration to sport to film to literature to comedy to protest to sacrifice. Yes, there are moments when we have got it wrong; but never so wrong we couldn’t put it right. That is a simple, profound, optimistic message: topical, yet timeless. Secondly, this was a celebration of the ordinary individual, as well as our collective power. They say the opening ceremony is about the athletes — the Olympians — and it was. But it was also about the spectators, the volunteers and the construction  workers, too: all who had played their part in making the day happen were given their place in the limelight.  And when it came to the lighting of the Olympic cauldron how perfect that it should be an unknown group of athletes from the next generation who lit up London: symbolism which seems almost inevitably predictable in hindsight, but which no-one actually predicted.  This was an opening ceremony by the people, for the people, of the people. It was a visceral celebration of Britain as individuals and as citizens in a nation where anything is possible. Not bad for a night’s work, Mr Boyle — or Sir Danny, as I suspect you will soon be known.
Liberal Heroes of the Week #10: The 70,000 London 2012 Games Makers
 AUGUST 11, 2012
 The London 2012 Game Makers
The 70,000 volunteers who have been on constant hand to help visitors to the Olympics
Reason: for their enthusiasm, individualism and friendly approach to showing Britain at its best.
  There are many highlights to treasure from this year’s Olympics: from
an uplifting opening ceremony
inspiring feats of athletic achievement. And of course  Team GB’s scintillating success, with a medal tally at time of writing of 58. But perhaps the greatest achievement has been the transformation of a country and a people which can (let’s be honest) so often appear aloof and cold into a  warm and welcoming nation of citizens. The 70,000 Games Makers are both the emblem and the driver of that transformation.  As a
Guardian profile of the Games Makers
 in the
build-up to London 2012 observed:
… such is the brain-boggling scale of the Olympics and Paralympics, neither could take  place without them. From checking tickets at venues to operating the scoreboards in the Olympic stadium, from starting the music at the synchronised swimming to escorting athletes to be drug-tested, many of the most critical roles at the Games will be performed by volunteers whose only reward is the opportunity to say they were there. … In total they will perform 800 different roles, working at least 10 shifts, usually of eight hours each. In exchange for their labour, worth almost £500 if they were paid the minimum wage, they will receive their uniform, a travelcard for the duration of the Games and meal vouchers on the days they are working.
Everybody has remarked on their cheery bonhomie. I  visited Earls Court on Monday night, and walking from the tube to the stadium our journey was assisted every step of the way by purple-and-beige-clad Games Makers. It’s not the most glamorous job in the world  — but here they were, hanging around a pedestrian crossing a kilometre away from London’s least exciting Olympic  venue to ensure tourists didn’t get lost, and every single one of them seemed dedicated to helping all of us got there in good time and to wishing us a good time. More importantly, they were allowed to be themselves.  There was no slick telemarketing-style corporate script they were expected to stick to robotically. Their individual personalities were allowed to shine through, most obviously for those sitting on the high-visibility, high-rise ‘umpire’s chairs’, offering a personally-styled hello and goodbye — sometimes sung — and the occasional gentle chiding of those visitors straying to the wrong side of the efficient pedestrian contraflow systems. Even rules were occasionally bent in honour of this noble spirit. Thursday evening at the O2North
Greenwich Arena, hungry after a day at work, we bought some food inside the venue but before having our ticket checked. Officially it should have been confiscated from us. Instead, recognising an honest mistake, we were discreetly waved through. No petty jobsworth arguments to spoil our evening; just some trust and common sense.  The Games Makers’ heartiness has proved infectious: for the past two weeks, even a city as surly as London has allowed itself to be lulled into smiling at and assisting complete strangers. It’s nothing short of heroic, and for that we salute the 70,000.

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