I'm not usually fussed either way about New Year's honours lists. I can agree it has become more meritorious in recent years, but it still drips with a certain sense of hierarchy and class that I don't find appealing. It is not important to this piece, but I was much amused that the main local media managed to disagree with each other in early reports on the number of locals recognised this year, citing either 2, 3, or (correctly) 4.
Personally I was delighted to see Ed Le Quesne receive an MBE. I have known him 40 years, and worked with him on a number of projects relating to Oxfam and the One World Group. His award had little to do with his working life as a teacher, but much more his genuine conscience led community activity both locally and in Kenya. Just the sort of thing that brings some merit to the whole system.
The other awards that I noted were those to Helene Donnolly and Julie Bailey who led a campaign to expose serious care failings at Mid Staffordshire NHS. Helene as a nurse at the affected trust was key as a whistleblower. Like many whisleblowers she was threatened by colleagues and felt intimidated. See http://www.nursingtimes.net/nursing-practice/clinical-zones/accident-and-emergency/whistleblowing-mid-staffs-nurse-too-scared-to-walk-to-car-after-shift/5036466.article In former times she would far more likely have ended up facing the sort of treatment Simon Bellwood and Stuart Syvret received locally in making serious failings of the care system public, even though their claims were substantiated in investigations and subsequent court actions. Perhaps Helenes's award will bring it home to local notables that the times and attitudes are a changing.
Happy New Year
Tuesday, 31 December 2013
Friday, 6 December 2013
I have been listening to the outpourings in the World Service on the death of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. I’m sure those Africans out on the streets of the townships singing his name and dancing know full well what his life meant. His greatness was not simply in nation building, and being the first black president of South Africa. All that is true, but it is only half the story.
When I was an active student, Nelson Mandela was still a prisoner on Robben Island. Those of us who held him in some regard and helped with campaigns to boycott South Africa and for his freedom were constantly reminded by our opponents that he was a convict, a terrorist. I did not then, and I do not now agree with violence and armed struggle, but I do concur that it is valid, indeed often necessary, to take action to oppose a legally sanctioned but nevertheless inhuman and manifestly unjust system. His 27 years incarceration, subsequent election as president of the country and success in defusing so much of the bitterness and understandable vengefulness that could have overflowed at the end of apartheid, should have lessons for us.
I am struck that so many of those lauding Nelson Mandela today will be those who have also been at the forefront of proclaiming a war on terror. Without a hint of irony they will totally ignore that they too would likely have Mandela imprisoned on similar anti-terrorist legislation had he taken his action today. Will those leaders and governments take any lesson from that? If they really want to remember him they would look to their own actions in the light of what his life has shown us:
Humanity will always eventually win out over legality;
Coercive power is futile;
Forgiveness is the power of the victim.
Finally a quote from the trial in 1964. “During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But, My Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”