Hero of the Year Awards 2012

by George_East on January 21, 2013

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This is a post by George East which was originally posted on 1 January 2013 but which was lost from the site during our recent difficulties.  It is not clear whether the post is complete and unfortunately all comments on the post and any graphics originally posted have been lost.

I am pleased to say that is now time to put you all out of your misery.  The Allthatsleft annual awards ceremony is upon us and it is time to reveal who will join the exalted ranks of Aung Sang Suu Kyi (2010) and Jens Stoltenberg (2011) as our Hero of the Year.

As is traditional the Committee has looked at achievement across the year as a whole rather than simply the number of weekly Hero Awards made. So, in reverse order the Allthatsleft Heroes of 2012 are:

5. Pussy Riot

Vladimir Putin is a very scary man. He is not a bloke that anyone crosses lightly. Dissent is being stifled, the free press barely exists, mysterious assassinations of opponents occur around the world.  It takes real bravery to take him on. Like his communist and Romanov forebears, Putin has appropriated most of the establishment forces to his regime, including the Russian Orthodox Church.

On 21 February of this year five members of Pussy Riot (they are a collective and their membership varies) entered Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior to protest against the Russian Orthodox Church’ s support of Putin. They played some songs and recorded a video called, Punk Prayer – Mother of God, Chase Putin Away. The reaction of the Russian authorities was wholly predictable. Three members of Pussy Riot (Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich) were charged with hooliganism motivated by religious hatred (a reminder if we needed one as to why protection of religions (as opposed to religious belief) under equality laws in the UK is so misguided). They were sentenced to two years imprisonment.

In October Samutsevich was freed on appeal, but Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina remain in prison camps. Revealingly, Russian PM Dmitry Medvedev has said that he does not think that they should have been sent to jail.  Putin, on the other hand, said they ‘got what they deserved‘.

4. Barack Obama

He didn’t make it easy for himself deciding, for still unexplained reasons, not to turn up other than in body to the first Presidential debate leading to a late September/early October poll wobble that only Nate Silver was able to reassure us was not as bad as it looked. But Barack Obama deserves this award as much for what his re-election prevented as for what it is likely to achieve in his second term.

The prospect of a Tea Party controlled Mitt Romney winning the Presidency on a mandate to undo not only President Obama’s health care reforms but also what remains of the New Deal and the Great Society, was truly terrifying. There were constant reminders during the election campaign of how mad the Republicans now are. Richard Mourdock, the Republican Senate candidate in Indiana spoke of pregnancy from rape as being something God intended to happen.  Todd Akin in Missouri referred to ‘legitimate rape’.   Romney himself dismissed almost half the population as moochers and scroungers permanently sucking at the teats of the state.

This is so far from being the party of Eisenhower or even George Bush Sr, that it is almost unrecongisable. For preventing that Obama deserves his place on our annual awards. But more than that, his re-election together with the surprising decision of Chief Justice John Roberts to break with his conservative brethren on the Supreme Court in upholding President Obama’s health care reforms, makes it far more difficult to repeal in the future (as people will actually see the benefit of it).   If Obama leaves office having finally removed the absurdity of one of the richest nations on the planet having 40,000,000 without access to health care, he will rightly deserve his place in history.

3. The Hillsborough Justice Campaign

It has been a long long time coming. There have been painful hideous lies propagated by the South Yorkshire Police and the Murdoch Newspaper Empire (revived lest we forget by Boris Johnson’s Spectator). There have been long periods when the campaigners were pretty much on their own, ignored by an establishment that had moved on. Only the Campaign’s tenacity, led as it was by the families and friends of the 96 football fans who died on that terrible April day in 1989, kept the pressure on. But on 12 September 2012 the Hillsborough Independent Panel set up by Andy Burnham reported and all relevant documents were finally released to the families and the public.  The result, as the Hillsborough Justice Campaign had always said it would be, the report concluded that no Liverpool fans were in any way responsible for the events of that dreadful day.  The main cause was identified as a lack of police control on the day.   More scandalously the report revealed that 164 witness statements had been altered, 116 statements unfavourable to the South Yorkshire Police had been removed altogether.

Further, the evidence was, as the Hillsborough Justice Campaign had always suspected that there had been an organised conspiracy between the South Yorkshire Police and local Tory MP Sir Irvine Patnick to put out false stories about the fans. The original inquests have now been quashed and the process of getting justice for the families can take its course. None of the truth would have come out if had been for Hillsborough Justice Campaign.

2. Francois Hollande

He has had a bit of a bumpy ride since being elected, what with personal issues, plummeting approval ratings and the French Constitutional Council vetoing his signature tax policy, but we should not forget how important Francois Hollande’s election was for a battered centre-left in Europe generally. Save for an election victory in Denmark (which actually saw the vote of the leading centre left part fall), the left had lost just about every electoral contest that had taken place in Europe since the financial crisis of 2008-9.  The crisis in financial capitalism had led to a wider crisis in a Blairite social democracy that had embraced Thatcherite economic principles with the hope of redistributing the proceeds, but found itself in the Emperor’s New Clothes once there was nothing left to redistribute.

Hollande’s victory was encouraging not just because he won and won as an uncharismatic party functionary against one of the most able (and dirty fighting) French politicians of the last 30 years in Nicolas Sarkozy, but because he won on a programme that expressly challenged the orthodoxy of austerity economics. The Merkel led imposition of spending cut and tax increases in the middle of the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression has almost destroyed the economies of much of southern Europe trapped in the strait-jacket of the single currency.  Hollande represents a winning alternative to that.

1. Danny Boyle

And this year’s Hero of the Year is Danny Boyle. The summer was supposed to be about the Jubilee and the Olympic Games.  The Tories were convinced they’d get a poll bounce out of the patriotic fervor that would result. The first was a bit of a wash out. The run-up to the second did not bode well.  The ticket system was a shambles, the rain kept falling, the security company G4S (the same people who used to  regularly lose prisoners back when they were Group 4) couldn’t recruit enough security guards for the Games in a time of mass unemployment, its be-mulleted Chief Executive Nick Bowles gave one of the most laughably incompetent performance in front of a parliamentary select committee of all time.  Even the very first events before the opening ceremony had that element of Carry On about them – the wrong Korean flag in the first football match in a virtually empty Hampden Park.

But then on 27 July 2012 the focus turned to the Olympic Stadium in Stratford the Opening Ceremony.     The whole thing was surrounded in secrecy, directed by Danny Boyle of Trainspotting fame.   It opened with a bell from the yet to be Sir Bradley Wiggins and a scene of rural idyll with sheep and cattle and goats, as a choir boy with an angelic voice sang Jerusalem.  Then the rural scene was upended with the onset of the industrial revolution, with Kenneth Branagh hamming it up as Isambard Kingdom Brunel quoting Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Milton. It didn’t get any more sane as it went on.

The ceremony captured an inclusive version of British patriotism which celebrated the Jarrow marchers, the Suffragettes, the first West Indian immigrants arriving on the Windrush, the peace movement and gloriously the NHS in a wonderful scene of bed bouncing mayhem celebrating Great Ormond Street Hospital.  It had multi-cultural relationships, Bond and JK Rowling. It had the Sex Pistols and the Queen.  It had deaf signing choirs and David Beckham. It had the Arctic Monkeys and Dizzee Rascal. It had Charlie Chaplin and Doreen Lawrence. It even (on a second view) had a sneaky shot of Ken Livingstone driving a tube train. The Tory right hated it, making total arses of themselves in the process. But like Billy Bragg has been seeking to show for a couple of decades now, there is plenty about the UK to be patriotic about and what makes Britain great is not the petty minded little Englander faux 1950s vision put forward by the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph. It  set up what were for me the greatest Olympic Games of my lifetime and the centerpiece of the finest summer ever for British sport.

It was Danny Boyle’s heroic vision of Britain and being British and determination to get what he wanted that made us all smile so much.  And to find out he turned down a knighthood that was his for the taking at the end of the year only made us admire him more.

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