Hero of The Year Awards 2011

by George_East on January 3, 2012

That time is upon as again.   The time for our annual awards.   There have been 52 weekly winners of each of our Prat, Hero and Villain awards in the course of 2011.  But our annual awards are more than simply totting up the number of weekly awards won.  Instead it is a question of looking at the year as a whole and identifying those who have really excelled in their respective categories.  So after much debate in the committee, it is my pleasure and privilege to announce the Allthatsleft Heroes of the Year for 2011.

As is traditional, they will be announced in reverse order.

5. Jack Layton

There have not exactly been many reasons for the left to take cheer from electoral results in the last 12 months.   There was the election as Prime Minister of Helle Thorning-Schmidt in Denmark, though this was somewhat tarnished by the fact that her Social Democratic Party received its lowest proportion of votes since the Second World War.   There was also the unexpected victory in Slovenia of the new centre left party Positive Slovenia under the mayor of Ljubljana, Zoran Jankovic.

The Canadian elections back at the beginning of May were, on one view, another disaster for the left.   Stephen Harper’s Bushite Conservative Party won an overall majority as Michael Ignatieff’s Liberal Party crashed to its worst ever result.  However,  a substantial silver lining to this cloud was the hugely impressive performance of the social democratic New Democratic Party, led by Jack Layton.   Having fought a determined campaign unashamedly focused on left issues of healthcare, civil liberties and pro-growth economics, the NDP received a record 30.6% of the vote and trebled its parliamentary representation, becoming the official opposition.

This stunningly impressive performance made Layton’s death from cancer in August all the more tragic.   Stephen Harper granted him a thoroughly deserved state funeral and in a farewell note to his supporters two days before his death Layton said this:

“My friends, love is better than anger.  Hope is better than fear.  Optimism is better than despair.  So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic.  And we’ll change the world.”

4. Tom Watson MP

The Labour MP for West Bromwich East, Tom Watson has gone from being a slightly compromised Brownite ultra (dramatically calling on Tony Blair to resign by letter in September 2006 the day after visiting Brown’s constituency home) with dodgy expenses claims (claiming the maximum £4,800 for food) to the leading parliamentary attack dog against the Murdoch empire.   He has shown that it is possible to take on News International and win.

It has been primarily as a member of the Select Committee for Culture, Media and Sports that Watson has been able to prosecute his campaign.  His likening of the Murdochs to mafia bosses at the head of a criminal empire has, as more and more evidence of what was going on at the News of the World has been revealed through the Leveson inquiry,  increasingly seemed to be a straight statement of fact rather than the grandstanding it smacked of at the time.

It was the early determination of Watson in particular that helped Ed Miliband to find his balls (of the non-Ed kind) in the summer over the Andy Coulson affair –  the only moment where Miliband has seemed like an effective leader of the opposition.

We need many more like Watson.

3. The Peoples of Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain etc

By someway the most historically significant story of 2011 were the events known as the Arab Spring (though they lasted all year and are still ongoing).  The various popular uprisings in North Africa and across the Middle East, as long suffering populations reached breaking point and took to the streets in their millions against the corrupt and brutal dictatorships of the region showing the real power of democracy.   The short term results are still unclear – Tunisia looks like it might be transitioning successfully into a parliamentary democracy, Egypt that it may need a second revolution against the military leaders who remained in power after Mubarak, the outcome in Syria and Yemen is uncertain, Bahrain’s moment brutally suppressed.  The long term consequences though are huge.

In each case the ordinary people who have taken to the streets against their long entrenched regimes have shown extraordinary bravery and some, in Syria in particular but in other countries too, have lost their lives as a result.  This revolutionary wave across a whole region has not been about the people rallying behind exiled leaders Iran style – other than specialists in the politics of the region, I doubt anyone can name any of the nominal leaders of the formal opposition groups – rather it has been about the people taking control of their own lives and acting themselves.  The events are also the greatest repudiation of the neo-con democracy at the barrel of a gun policy so beloved of Tony Blair and George W Bush.

These are revolutions owned by the peoples of the countries in which they have taken place.   Freem and Moxy from below.  Those peoples are heroes indeed.

2. Mohammed Bouazizi

Which brings us to Mohammed Bouazizi, the man who unwittingly sparked the uprising in Tunisia, from which everything else followed.   A street seller who had his wares and most importantly his scales (crucial for his livelihood) confiscated by corrupt local officials of the Ben-Ali regime.   A man who was unable to pay the necessary bribes to get his wares back and who demanded to see the local governor.     Having been denied this audience in desperation he set himself on fire.  This set off huge demostrations in Sidi Bouzid, that rapidly spread throughout the country.   He would die of his burns in hospital on 4 January 2011.  10 days later Ben-Ali would flee to exile in that dictator’s paradise, Saudi Arabia.

The parallels with the Buddhist monks setting themselves alight in Saigon over the Vietnam War are obvious.    Sometimes it takes one person who cannot take it anymore to make others realise that they also are not willing to put up with things and to act.  Bouazizi, an ordinary market trader, was the catalyst for the most extraordinary events across North Africa and the Middle East we have witnessed in the last twelve months.

He was an ordinary man who now has the main square in Tunis’ capital named after him, postage stamps bearing his face, various posthumous international prizes awarded to him and one of the Times men of 2011.   All he wanted though was to be able to sell some fruit and vegetables to keep his family.

1. Jens Stoltenberg

From the perspective of this country one could only watch in awe as the Norwegian Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, reacted to his country’s worst ever mass killings in which far right fanatic Anders Behring Breivik murdered 8 people  in a bomb attack in the centre of Oslo followed by a mass shooting, killing 69 teenagers at a political summer camp.

If such an attack had happened in the UK, there would have been immediate calls for knee jerk repressive laws to be introduced in response.  A call that our politicians would have been only too ready to accede to, as we have seen depressingly time and time again.   The reaction not only in the US but here to the 9/11 attacks – detention without trial, control orders, the torture state etc was as depressing as it was predictable and shows the kind of thing we could have expected.

In stark contrast Stoltenberg’s dignified response to the devastating attacks (in proportionate terms worse than 9/11) was to emphasise how the attacks were not going to change Norwegian society one iota and that Norway’s tolerant, open, social democratic model would endure.

Stoltenberg is a worthy winner of our Hero of the Year Award for 2011 and a worthy successor to our 2010 winner, Aung Sang Suu Kyi.  We could learn so much from him – a true statesman.  We won’t of course.

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