Archive for December, 2012

My Women of the Year

Posted in Person of the Year with tags , , , on December 21, 2012 by Tom Leatherbarrow

doreen_lawrenceI can delay no longer. The years’ least sought after award, which appears on no CVs and is roundly ignored by those in power, is now upon us.

Double Act of the Year has undoubtedly been Lord Justice Leveson and Robert Jay QC. Whilst his Lordship has scowled over proceedings at his inquiry, Robert Jay has been engaged in singlehandedly rescuing the English language. His verbal barrage, which included “nugatory”, “condign”, “propinquity” and “occlude”, left many of us, including witnesses, wondering what the hell he was going on about, but my word it sounded good.

The onward march of social media has continued this year, leaving in its wake the mainstream which too often seems outdated and sluggish. My Blog of the Year is Alastair Campbell’s, which combines sharp political analysis with piercing wit. Like him or loathe him, PR has not had a performer of his stature since he left government ten years ago.

A very personal choice for New Media Source of the Year is the Anfield Wrap (“If you’re Red get on it!”), a podcast which involves half a dozen Scousers sitting around talking about football, in the process providing a welcome antidote to the lynch-mob mentality of the average 606 caller. How I long to be in the studio with them.

Whilst history might not repeat itself, it certainly echoes. The imprisoning of Pussy Riot in Russia brought to mind the White Rose students in Nazi Germany without, hopefully, the same horrific denouement. That four young women were able to bring such a heavy-handed response from Putin’s government demonstrates that it is often the fire of youth which politicians must fear the most.

My Communicator of the Year is actually a former client of mine. Siemens’ Juergen Maier, in his many appearances on Channel 4 News, has been succinctly doing the Treasury’s job for it, namely talking up the economy, putting over the case for manufacturing and extolling the virtues of state intervention via a National Investment Bank. One senses he is destined for bigger things, bigger even than Siemens.

Norbert Walter-Borjans, finance minister of North Rhine Westphalia, also deserves a quick mention. He has led the way on tax evasion by buying bootleg CDs full of the names of German evaders, simultaneously bringing Swiss German relations to historic lows. Keep up the good work Norbert.

My film director of the year is Danny Boyle. I didn’t (and couldn’t) sit through all of the Olympic opening ceremony, but his homage to the National Health Service, at a time when it is under siege from our leaders, discomforted the Government and provided a cultural highlight.

Whilst this is an individual award, a number of organisations deserve special mention this year. The Hillsborough Independent Panel overturned 23 years of injustice with a forensic analysis of events which led to the deaths of 96 football fans, whilst USADA, the US anti-doping agency, deserves great credit for uncovering the wrong-doing of a whole generation of elite cyclists.

On the subject of Hillsborough, outside of the families and campaigners, two individuals deserve special praise. It’s been a bad year for BBC Newsnight but Kirsty Wark’s interview with the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police on the day the report was released was a tour-de-force performance, which simultaneously combined barely concealed rage with direct and at times blunt questioning.

The Prime Minister also deserves praise. The word is that he was genuinely shocked by the contents of the Independent Panel’s report, in particular the alcohol testing of the dead bodies of children. His response in the House of Commons, along with his apology for the murder of Irish solicitor Pat Finucane, demonstrated that when he does not allow the “red mists” to come down or play too hard to the cameras, he can come across as a sincere man of great integrity.

Two women have stood out this year for their dignity in the face of unimaginable traumas inflicted upon their families. Both lost sons and then had to endure years of foot dragging, mendacity and falsehoods on the part of the police and other authorities. Both have continued to believe that justice was possible and this year achieved their long held goals.

My Women of the Year are Doreen Lawrence, mother of Stephen Lawrence and Anne Williams, mother of Kevin Williams, one of the 96 who died at Hillsborough.

It falls to me wish all readers of this blog a happy Christmas, this blog will return in the New Year.

My Villain of the Year

Posted in Person of the Year with tags , , , , , , on December 19, 2012 by Tom Leatherbarrow

lance-armstrong1It’s that time of year again when this country’s least anticipated awards are given out and promptly forgotten.  We will, as ever, start with the villains before finishing on a high note when I unveil my Man (or Woman) of the year on Friday.

It has been an extraordinary year for British sport, when dedication, planning and modern sports science have been harnessed to provide a glittering array of trophies, medals and awards.  However, one man has stood in the way of progress, displaying a General Haig-like inability to move with the times.  The performance of the England football team under Roy Hodgson at the European Championships brought to mind Haig’s tactical vision during the Great War when he believed that, “one good cavalry charge will win it”.  When will the English (and more importantly the Football Association) learn that modern football tactics amount to more than “up and at ‘em lads”?

There is another ex-footballer who deserves special mention.   Mark Lawrenson has this year brought football punditry to all-time lows.  During one match at the European Championships involving the Ukraine he admitted, live on air, that he didn’t know any of the players.  Is it too much to ask that, as part of his extortionate salary, he watches a few videos by way of preparation?

There has been a strong sense all year that the public has lost it tolerance for tax evasion in the Age of Austerity.  Starbucks, Google and Amazon have all been hauled before the public accounts committee, but I would like to see this widened to include celebrities and businessmen, such as Philip Green and Gary Barlow, who spirit away their profits to Jersey and Lichtenstein with the help of high-priced accountants.  In particular, I’d like to see Margaret Hodge interrogating my Tax Evader of the Year, Jimmy Carr.

Although this is an individual award, a number of organisations deserve a mention.  Both the G20 and the European Union now appear happy to let the Eurozone crisis bump along, like a bunch of Nero’s fiddling while Rome burns.   In the United States, the National Rifle Association appears unmoved by the slaughter of young children in Newtown, Connecticut.  Apparently, the tragedy could have been avoided “if teachers had been armed.”

The Church of England also deserves special mention.  The decision to vote against the ordination of women at the recent General Synod was a PR disaster even worse than the Church’s response to the Occupy Protesters outside St Paul’s.  If those in charge want to get to the bottom of why the ranks of the religious have declined, according to the most recent census, could I suggest that better PR might be one way forward.

However, one public organisation has proved itself totally unfit to serve the public this year.  From Hillsborough through to Stephen Lawrence, Ian Tomlinson and phone hacking, the police have demonstrated that their first instincts are not to uncover the truth but to hush it up.  As I type, the Met are involved in another scandal as Pleb-gate is revealed to be an attempt to force the resignation of a Cabinet Minister.  Never before has the last great unreformed public service looked more in need of radical reform.

One policeman however deserves special mention.  After the Hillsborough Independent Panel Report Sir Norman Bettison was unable to bring himself to stop the years of lying, obfuscation, evidence-tampering and witness intimidation which characterised the police’s response to what should now be known as the Hillsborough Scandal.  He has, mercifully, now been removed from public life.

However, only one man this year has been proven to have pulled the wool over the eyes of a generation of sports lovers, in the process amassing millions of dollars, it now seems, illegitimately.  There is plenty to shock in the US Anti-Doping Agency report into his actions, but one of the most moving was the story of his treatment of a young French cyclist, Christophe Bassons, who refused to take drugs.  When Bassons spoke out against drug taking he was bullied and shunned by the Peloton, which eventually led to the young man leaving the 1998 Tour De France and retiring from cycling.

My villain of the year is Lance Armstrong.