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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 (email@example.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 spellbinding 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 it 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 top-rated 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 BernersLee’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 to 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: — 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.
… 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
Liberal Hero of the Week #17 – Boris Johnson
OCTOBER 12, 2012 Boris Johnson Conservative Mayor of London.. Reason: For his pro-immigration stance and opposition to the Coalition’s immigration cap.
Cognitive dissonance (n.): the state of holding two or more conflicting cognitions (e.g., ideas, beliefs, values, emotional reactions) simultaneously.
The Conservative party can be an odd beast. On the one hand, they view David Cameron with suspicion, and some with outright contempt, for his not-quite-Tory-enough views on ‘trendy, left-wing’ issues like gay marriage. On the other hand, they cheer to the rafters Boris Johnson as an authentic voice of full-throated conservatism despite his “what’s all the fuss about?” support for gay marriage. On the one hand, the Conservative party stands up for classically liberal free market economics: they champion the free movement of goods, services, labour and capital, and the rights of the risk-taking entrepreneur to be able to hire and fire at will. On the other hand, they froth in favour of tight state regulation of the labour market if it means businesses wanting to employ more skilled migrants than the Government’s 20,700 annual quota allows. Of course the real reason Tories love Boris Johnson (besides the good jokes) is that he’s the only Conservative in the last two decades to win outright a majority at the ballot box in a major election. Conservatives exist to govern, to be in power. Boris’s proven ability to do just that — and to win reelection — trumps whatever he may have had to say and do in order to get elected; just as Tory members suspended their suspicion of David Cameron up to May 2010 when he failed to defeat the least popular post-war Labour government. For the moment, therefore, Tories are quite content in their cognitive dissonance, loving Boris for holding views they disagree with. His bravest stance within the Tory party — albeit a necessary one to win election as London mayor — is
his support for immigration. And even on the eve of the Conservative conference, he was at it again, urging the Government to “allow the best and brightest to come here, contribute and thrive”. He has actively welcomed the setting up of a new cross-party group, Migration Matters, as an evidencebased counterbalance to the anti-immigration Migration Watch. Migration Matters, co-chaired by Labour’s Barbara Roche and the Tories’ Gavin Barwell (a previous Liberal Hero), has a selfdeclared aim of exploding three ‘migration myths’:
• That migration is a net economic burden
Migration Matters says that immigration boosts the UK’s GDP by 0.5% annually according to the Office of Budget Responsibility
• The UK is being swamped by migrants
It says that current migration levels are no greater than the rate from the early 1900s to 1970.
• Migrants are taking all the new jobs in the UK.
Migration Matters says that, according to the Office of National Statistics, only one in ten new jobs in the UK goes to an immigrant. “Your principle aim,” Boris wrote to the group, “is an important one in an area often riddled with inaccurate claims, differing opinion and, consequently, strains and tension.” For this declaration in favour of a rigorous, liberal approach to immigration — at a time when both his own party and the Labour party are retreating to isolationist populism on the issue — Boris is my Liberal Hero of the Week.
http://centreforumblog.wordpress.com/2012/10/12/ centreforums‐liberal‐hero‐of‐the‐week‐17‐boris‐ johnson‐malala‐yousafzai/
Liberal Heroes of the Week #23: John Kampfner, Nick Cohen & Fraser Nelson
NOVEMBER 30, 2012 John Kampfner, Nick Cohen & Fraser Nelson Journalists: former editor of the New Statesman (John), columnist for The Observer (Nick) & current editor of The Spectator (Fraser) Reason: For championing a free press from their respective liberal-left and right-wing perspectives. Lord Justice Leveson has delivered his report on media standards. It is an elegant read which does its best — but fails — to square the circle of how you can get the press to regulate itself without government interference. Sir Brian’s proposes an independent and voluntary system; but authorises the state to regulate those newspapers which don’t agree to this system. As the curate might have said of this Inquiry egg, “My Lord, I assure you that parts of it maintain a free press!” Much of the debate has been sterile. The knee-jerk of much of the ‘progressive left’ (including many Lib Dems) has been instinctively Statist, with Leveson seen as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to stick it to Rupert Murdoch and the Daily Mail, those two liberal bête noires. The equal and opposite knee-jerk of some on the ‘conservative right’ has been outrage at the temerity of a judge interfering in the business of their natural supporters, no matter what abuses they’ve committed against individuals such as the McCanns and Christopher Jefferies. My view is two-fold: 1) The press should be free and any attempt to regulate it whether explicitly (through an Ofcomtype structure) or implicitly (as Leveson proposes by compelling voluntary cooperation backed up by legislation). As I wrote here on LibDemVoice: Of course Britain would not become Zimbabwe if there were independent regulation of the press. But there are many more subtle ways than that in which pressure can be ‘brought to bear’ to ensure compliance. And I don’t want a compliant press. John Kampfner, whose liberal-left credentials are impeccable, has been one of the few voices in progressive politics sticking up for freedom of expression. As he brilliantly argued in The Guardian this week: I suspect some of those around Leveson, and around the Hacked Off campaign really do cavil at the thought of an impolite media. Why could they not all be more like the Guardian or FT? Why can’t free speech be my kind of speech? With some statutory checks and balances in place, maybe it will be, they hope. Sadly, most of those determined to apply new constraints on the media hail from the centre-left. They are concerned less with the process of an open media and more with the outcome of a liberal society. … A raucous, argumentative society is a healthy society. Journalists already preen too much and probe too little. That is the unfortunate state of affairs, even before Leveson issues his proclamation. 2) But individuals need to have affordable forms of redress to ensure that those parts of the media which have shown themselves to be scandalously contemptuous of the rights of ordinary citizens are empowered to take action. As I also argued on LibDemVoice: What I want to see Sir Brian Leveson proposing are are ways of making it easier for private individuals to stick up for themselves without the need for a state-created regulator Nick Cohen — a polemicist regarded by the right as on the left and by the left as on the right and who occasionally also manages to be simultaneously liberal — addressed this very well in The Guardian last weekend: The government must tackle the costs lawyers impose. Freedom of speech is a fundamental right, without it religious freedom and democratic rights to assess the powerful fail. Yet the natural born billers of the English law are an obstacle to justice. We need cheap tribunals, as they have on the continent. You should be able to sue without worrying that you need £250,000 in the bank before you go to law. Equally, a journalist, blogger or
tweeter should be able to defend the truth of what he or she writes without the legal profession pricing them out of the courts. … England should uphold the principle of equality before the law by having cheap and accessible means of challenging and defending contested speech. That’s why I’m nominating John Kampfner and Nick Cohen as liberal heroes of the week. But what of Fraser Nelson? Even before Leveson had reported, he’d declared The Spectator would play no part in any form of statutorily-regulated system: “If the press agrees a new form of self-regulation, perhaps contractually binding this time, we will happily take part. But we would not sign up to anything enforced by government. If such a group is constituted we will not attend its meetings, pay its fines nor heed its menaces. We would still obey the (other) laws of the land. But to join any scheme which subordinates press to parliament would be a betrayal of what this paper has stood for since its inception in 1828.”
I don’t relish Fraser’s tone. The abuses by our free press detailed in the Leveson Report require, I would suggest, a more reflective tone. As its circulations plummet, the press desperately needs to find ways of restoring trust in its product. Those who really care about the survival of the press would be better off focusing their energies on correcting their trade’s decades of self-harm. But — you know what? — I don’t have to care for Fraser Nelson‘s chippy tone. So long as he and The Spectator behave within the law he has the right to say what he wants, how he wants. For drawing attention to that fact, he is also a bit of a liberal hero this week.
http://centreforumblog.wordpress.com/2012/11/30/l iberal‐heroes‐of‐the‐week‐23‐john‐kampfner‐nick‐ cohen‐fraser‐nelson/
Liberal Hero of the Week #26: Michael Crick
DECEMBER 21, 2012 Michael Crick Chief political correspondent, Channel 4 News Reason: For his pursuit of the truth in the case of the Andrew Mitchell ‘plebgate’ affair. “Michael Crick is in reception”. These are apparently five of the most terrifying words a politician can hear. Not this week, though. This week, it was Channel 4 News’s chief political correspondentwho rode to the rescue of a damned MP in distress, Andrew Mitchell, forced to resign as Conservative chief whip in October after the ‘plebgate’ row leached his political credibility. Three phrases looked likely to condemn Mr Mitchell forever in the eyes of the public and his own colleagues. Attributed to him in the official police log of the now infamous incident at the Downing Street gates, Mr Mitchell is alleged to have ranted in front of several ‘shocked’ eyewitnesses: Andrew Mitchell always denied uttering these words, though he did concede he swore in exasperation under his breath, “I thought you guys were supposed to f****** help us”. So guilty of some passive-aggressive rudeness, yes. But what about that word ‘pleb’, far more offensive to many than all the effing? Its resonance cannot be underestimated. A recent poll showed that it was the most spontaneously recalled political event of the past few months, with one-in-three members of the public able instantly to bring it to mind. Michael Crick’s investigation, broadcast on C4 News this week, isn’t definitive. There is no audio of the incident, just video images. However, all the circumstantial evidence suggests that Mr Mitchell’s
“Best you learn your f****** place… you don’t run this f****** government… You’re f****** plebs.”
version of events is more accurate than the police’s: he does not visibly rant and there are clearly no “members of public look[ing] visibly shocked”. An email from an ordinary member of the public supposedly corroborating the police log turns out both to have been written by a serving police officer and to have been false. The police’s case is further undermined by the shabby behaviour of the Police Federation: a tape recording shows that after hearing Mr Mitchell’s account of the episode, representatives then immediately went outside to tell the waiting TV cameras that he’d refused to offer an account and demanded his resignation. Everyone is entitled to due process, including in this instance the the Met and the Police Federation. However, the allegations which they must now defend themselves against couldn’t be much more serious: a conspiracy to bring about the resignation of a serving cabinet minister. Few people come out of this incident looking good. When the story first broke, I assumed it was based in more fact than seems now to be the case — I suggested an alternative apology statement to Andrew Mitchell. Meanwhile the Labour Party launched a campaign — Plebs for Police (see image, below) — trading on the (well-founded) presumption
that the public would be more likely to believe the police’s version of events than a Tory MP’s.
And let’s not let the public off the hook either: a YouGov poll in October showed 69% thought that Mr Mitchell did call the police officer a “pleb”; 52% thought he should resign. Perhaps those voters should consider their own positions now? But one man didn’t buy into this public/media groupthink that Tory MP = Guilty. He set out to find the truth, and he seems to have got a lot further in doing just that than either the newspapers or the cabinet secretary, Jeremy Heywood. For sticking up for natural justice applying to everyone, Michael Crick is this week’s Liberal Hero.
Liberal Hero of the Week #34: Margaret Thatcher. (She’s a Liberal Villain, too.)
APRIL 12, 2013 Margaret Thatcher Conservative Prime Minister, 1979-1990 Reason: for her liberalising trade union reforms There hasn’t been much room for nuance this week. Margaret Thatcher was either the finest Prime Minister this country has ever been graced by, saving a nation from destruction; or she was the worst thing that ever happened to Britain, laying it to waste in obsessive pursuit of her dogma. That gross over-simplification suits those of left and right who want to self-define either as her disciples or her enemies. But it bears little relation to the messy reality: the staunch monetarist who retreated from the
experiment even while she declared she wasn’t for turning; the doughty patriot who ignored warnings about Argentinian intentions towards the Falklands until it was almost too late; the champion of competition who converted public monopolies into private monopolies; the believer in thrift who gave away the profits from North Sea oil without thought to future investment; the convinced supply-sider who
sold council houses at a discount but didn’t replenish the stock, leaving renters high and dry; the free marketeer who tried her utmost to limit free movement of labour through immigration controls. There are many things Margaret Thatcher did which I agree with (though less frequently with the way she went about doing them, such as privatisation); and a good few things she did I disagree with. It is two specific trade union reforms implemented by Margaret Thatcher which make her this week’s Liberal Hero: 1) Ending the closed shop. I remember when studying A-level economics in the mid-1990s how extraordinary I found it that workers had once been forced to join a trade union or else potentially face the Margaret Thatcher Conservative Prime Minister, 1979-1990 Reason: for her centralisation of power If Margaret Thatcher’s great triumph was liberalising the economy, her greatest liberal failure was her centralisation of power. Liberalism is about trusting people to make their own decisions, believing they will more often make the right choice than the wrong one (and even when they do make the wrong choice individuals are more nimble than the state at learning the lessons of their mistake). Local government is one, often imperfect, expression of that devolution of trust. For Margaret Thatcher it was a rival for power and had to be squashed. It was not good enough for her to allow local Conservative councils to lead by example by keeping rates low through competitive tendering of services: instead she introduced rate-capping and compulsory competitive tendering to force her will on local councils. On the afternoon of her death (I assume by coincidence) the LSE Politics & Policy blog carried this assessment by George Jones and John Stewart:
sack. Margaret Thatcher started getting rid of this infringement of individual rights of association in 1982, completing the process in 1988. As a result, individuals are now free to choose if they want to join a union. 2) Introducing secret ballots for strike action. Again, it seemed remarkable to me, a child of Thatcher, to realise that strikes could be called as a result of a show of hands in front of union bosses who, with their closed-shop privileges, had the de facto power to sack those who dissented. Initially the government made ballots voluntary, even funded the costs; in 1984 they were made compulsory, and workers finally had the right to be formally consulted.
spending and taxing decisions of individual local authorities, ending their right to determine their own levels of expenditure when financed by their own taxation. … Central controls escalated, legislation became ever more prescriptive, regulations increased in number and in detail, and statutory guidance largely replaced the softer influence of circulars. Hostility to local government or at least certain local authorities intensified.
The process continued, intensified, under Labour. But the illiberalisation of people power started under Margaret Thatcher.
In the 1980s it all went wrong. For the first time ever central government sought to control the
Liberal Hero of the Week #40: Stephen Gough (aka The Naked Rambler)
JUNE 28, 2013 Stephen Gough (aka The Naked Rambler) Campaigner for free expression through nudity Reason: for exemplifying non-conformity (and society’s hypocrisy) There’s a fine line between heroism and sheer bloodyminded eccentricity. It’s a line that Stephen Gough walks (without the aid of clothes, naturally) every day. For those who don’t know, Mr Gough is a 50something former Royal Marine who had an epiphany 10 years ago, described in a Guardian profile:
are invoked to keep him out of sight: “likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress”, “capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person”, “conduct severe enough to cause alarm to ordinary people and threaten serious disturbance to the community”. How a naked man (or woman) walking around, minding their own business, can cause distress is beyond me. Provoke a snigger, yes: but not alarm. The authorities say otherwise. As a result, Stephen Gough has already served more time in jail than Stuart Hall will for his crimes. And though sex is used to sell pretty much everything, public nudity is what we choose to label a crime. I’m not sure it’s the Naked Rambler who’s the perverse one here. I’m a Non-Conformist by upbringing and a NonConformist in belief. Stephen Gough is choosing to live the life he wants to in a way which causes no harm to others. It might be convenient to us if he at least put a sock on it. But putting him in prison is an extreme reaction which says much, much more about us than it does about him. I’m not 100% sure he’s a hero. But his single-minded desire pursuit of personal freedom deserves a respect we’re denying him. PS: the nomination of Stephen Gough as Liberal Hero was put forward by CentreForum’s Adam Corlett, who pointed out to me this discussion of J.S. Mill:
... if he was good, then his body was good. “The human body isn’t offensive,” he says. “If that’s what we’re saying, as human beings, then it’s not rational.”
Since then, he has thrown off his clothes. In return, society has deprived him of his liberty: he has spent most of the past decade in prison, much of it in solitary confinement. The ins-and-outs of his arrests, re-arrests, imprisonments and re-imprisonments are detailed on his Wikipedia page. Some people will look at Stephen Gough — don’t worry, curiosity isn’t a crime — and question why he doesn’t simply cover himself up. His self-confessed ‘hardcore’ naturism is making his life a misery, and also that of his family (he writes to his two teenage children ‘without reply’). The authorities, inbetween putting him on trial for variations on antisocial behaviour and breach of the peace, have offered compromises to try and allow him to get on with his life, nakedly, on terms he finds unacceptable. But he’s beyond compromise:
“We can either end up living a life that others expect of us or lives based on our own truth. The difference is the difference between living a conscious life or one that is unconscious. And that’s the difference between living and not living.”
Our legal system finds it hard to cope with fundamentalist oddballs like Mr Gough. Vague laws
“There are certain offensive acts, e.g. public indecency, that Mill is willing to prohibit: “there are many acts which, being directly injurious only to the agents themselves, ought not to be legally interdicted, but which, if done publicly, are a violation of good manners and, coming thus within the category of offences against others, may rightly be prohibited. Of this kind are
offences against decency… the objection to publicity being equally strong in the case of many actions not in themselves condemnable.”" Mill is my Liberal Villain of the week!
I fear if I name J.S. Mill a Liberal Villain the universe may implode (or at least I’ll kop a lot of flak, which is
almost as bad). But duly noted that Mill, in wanting to ban public violations of good manners, wasn’t always A Perfect Liberal.
http://centreforumblog.wordpress.com/2013/06/28/ centreforum‐liberal‐hero‐of‐the‐week‐40‐stephen‐ gough‐aka‐the‐naked‐rambler/
Liberal Heroes of the Week #44: Conservative, Lib Dem and Labour leaders on Redbridge London Borough Council
AUGUST 2, 2013 Conservative, Lib Dem and Labour leaders on Redbridge London Borough Council Keith Prince, Ian Bond and Jas Athwal (respectively) Reason: for opposing the Home Office’s ‘Go Home’ poster-vans targeting illegal immigrants Vans have long been used as mythical deterrents. For years the BBC went to great lengths to pretend that its roving TV detector vans could pinpoint licence dodgers from the electromagnetic emissions of unauthorised TV sets (or some such invented pseudo-scientific nonsense). The Home Office clearly looked on approvingly, wondering how it too could spend public money on vans which serve no purpose. And then someone had a brainwave (which somehow went undetected by the BBC’s van). Why not send a poster-van around some London boroughs telling illegal immigrants that they are living here illegally? And, even better, why not suggest to those illegal immigrants they text the Home Office to let the authorities know that they are here illegally? It’s a wonder no-one’s thought of such a simple solution before. Just think of the time and money that could have been saved. As Nick Clegg pointedly asked this week: “What are we going to have next? honest, anyone who looks a bit shiftily foreign. As Rafael Behr argues in the New Statesman:
… [the vans] are unlikely to have a discernible impact on numbers, while certain to reinforce the impression that the nation is overrun with illicit foreigners. The government accepts the view of many voters that Britain is full to the brim with people who don’t deserve to be here. That assertion doesn’t always recognise a difference between legal and illegal status, nor between economic migration and political asylum. For the Home Office to drive around brandishing a pair of handcuffs is to abet the suspicion that there is something generically illegitimate about being foreign-born in the UK.
So why is the Home Office doing it, and why is a Conservative minister defending it (in, where else, but the Daily Mail)? Because they think it will be popular, appealing not only to those who are racist, but also to those who aren’t but who have bought the right-wing media-driven myth that all our woes can be laid at the door of foreigners, whether those who’ve ‘swamped’ this country or those who plot from Brussels how to run the UK. Kudos is due, therefore, to those politicians who have denounced the Home Office’s tactics. Step forward
Home Office vans driving around saying, ‘Please don’t shoplift,’ or, ‘Please don’t steal this car,’?”
But of course there’s a little more calculated method to this apparent random madness than meets the eye. The vans aren’t really aimed at illegal immigrants: their true target is people who don’t like illegal immigrants. Or legal immigrants. Or asylum seekers. Or, let’s be
the leaders of the Conservative, Lib Dem and Labour groups in the London Borough of Redbridge: Council joins attack on Government immigration vans Redbridge LBC has urged the Government to withdraw a mobile ad campaign which urges illegal immigrants to ‘go home or face arrest’. Councillors said the local authority had neither been informed nor consulted on the Home Office’s plan to drive vans around six London boroughs and emphasised the strategy could cause problems in affected communities. In a statement, council leader Keith Prince, deputy leader Ian Bond and Labour group leader Cllr Jas Athwal questioned why the Home Office had taken actions ‘bound to be controversial’ without meeting with communities first. Redbridge said they were ‘neither informed nor consulted’ about adverts deployed by the Home Office in the region. ‘We were neither informed nor consulted about this Home Office initiative,’ the statement read. ‘It is clearly most unfortunate that the Home Office should take actions which were bound
to be controversial, about highly sensitive matters, without very careful discussion with the affected communities. If we had been consulted, we would have warned strongly that, whatever effect this campaign might be intended to have on people who are in the country unlawfully, that message is far outweighed by the negative message to the great majority of people, from all backgrounds, who live and work together in Redbridge, peacefully, productively and lawfully. We ask the Home Office to withdraw the campaign.’ These vans are (just as were the BBC’s) a gimmick designed to convince the public of the state’s capacity to act tough. Worse, the “Go Home” vans’ real intent is to pander to popular anti-immigrant prejudice. Councillors Prince, Bond and Athwal are this week’s Liberal Heroes for calling out these vans for the tawdry trick they are.
Liberal Hero of the Week #50: Peter Tatchell
OCTOBER 13, 2013 Peter Tatchell Political campaigner Reason: for supporting free speech and its positive use Free speech matters. Here’s George Washington:“If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” The Internet offers a free speech paradox. Instantly any one of us can broadcast our thoughts, whether profound or shallow, polite or obscene, outrageous or banal, to the whole world. What could be more liberating? Yet the Internet can also see free speech blocked by authoritarian state/corporate censors, abused by those wishing to intimidate and bully, or cowed by fear of causing offence and provoking a Twitterstorm. We live in a self-censoring age. All of us recognise that words can hurt. Most of us avoid giving needless offence by deciding not to use terms we realise others will find insulting. Political correctness is, usually, little more than politeness by another name. That is our choice. We avoid casually hateful speech because we want to show empathy, to be liked, and because we recognise avoiding it is a generally Good Thing. Context and motive, though, are crucial. Childhood polio-sufferer Ian Dury’s 1981 song Spasticus Autisticus, written as an anthem for the disabled, was banned from the radio because the lyrics were deemed offensive (“I wibble when I piddle ‘cos my middle is a riddle”).
Chris Rock, a black comedian, regularly uses the word ‘nigger’ (“Can white people say nigger?”), as did white comedian Lenny Bruce before him (“if President Kennedy would just go on television, and say … “nigger nigger nigger nigger nigger” ’til nigger didn’t mean anything anymore, then you could never make some six-year-old black kid cry because somebody called him a nigger at school”). In recent weeks, Spurs fans have got into trouble with the police for trying to reclaim the word ‘yid’, taking on the anti-Semites who use it to insult. To his credit, David Cameron has drawn the fair distinction: “There’s a difference between Spurs fans self-describing themselves as Yids and someone calling someone a Yid as an insult.” And so has Peter Tatchell this week, making clear, eloquently and insistently via Twitter, the importance of context and motive in how we choose to use free speech:
For championing free speech, and the way in which it can be used proudly to defeat those who abuse it, Peter Tatchell is my 50th Liberal Hero of the Week.