People of the year: On the side of peace

Two negotiators at the heart of the Northern Ireland talks head the 'Independent on Sunday' poll; MAN OF THE YEAR: JOHN HUME; WOMAN OF THE YEAR: MO MOWLAM
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Indy Lifestyle Online
The results of our poll on the people of the year seem to show that, despite all the difficulties surrounding the Northern Ireland peace process, our readers look to it with hope and admiration for two of its major players.

Mo Mowlam takes the Woman of the Year award for the second year running - her runaway win, ahead of Hillary Clinton and Aung San Suu Kyi, confirming her status as the most popular member of this government and indeed Britain's most popular woman. John Hume is Man of the Year - a more surprising win, for it is not often that a British audience lauds an Irish nationalist.

No doubt people have cast their votes for a score or more of different reasons and were influenced both by cool judgement and warm sentiment. But what is remarkable is that they should have opted for figures associated with Northern Ireland, which for so long has been regarded as a hopeless lost cause.

The Irish question, long a national British aversion, has become a source of approval. This is borne out by the pattern of Man of the Year votes: Hume finished ahead of Kofi Annan, Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, the last two of whom were also important in the peace process.

Other figures associated with Belfast were not far behind: the Unionist leader David Trimble made a strong showing while Sinn Fein's president, Gerry Adams, also polled well, as did the chairman of the Stormont talks, George Mitchell. The votes were registered in advance of Friday's significant advances in the process.

Dr Mowlam and Mr Hume have very different characters, though they have in common resilience, self- belief and a refusal to despair in adversity. It has been a hugely eventful year for both of them.

A YEAR ago, within weeks of topping our poll, Mo Mowlam was plunged into a crisis when republicans shot dead the imprisoned loyalist leader Billy Wright - "King Rat" - sparking off a spiral of retaliatory killings. Repercussions from the attack threatened to destabilise the whole peace process. The Unionist Party described Mo Mowlam as pitiful and demanded her resignation while loyalist prisoners in the Maze voted to withdraw their support from the talks process.

At that dangerous moment Mo Mowlam took the unprecedented step of going into the Maze H-blocks and meeting loyalist prisoners, some of whom were serving time for multiple murders. It worked: within hours of her visit they agreed to stick with the process, and the talks went on.

But they did so against a background of continuing violence, while at the conference table itself the atmosphere was frosty. Nonethe- less they ground on towards their Easter deadline, more hopeful than confident. The full story of what happened behind the scenes remains to be told, but many participants report that Dr Mowlem was vital in making progress, more than one saying that the Good Friday agreement might not have come about without her irrepressible determination.

That achievement, followed by the delicate business of keeping the peace process show on the road ever since, will have garnered her many votes. But another large source of support will have been the general admiration for how she coped with what she calls "my little tumour".

This turned out to be a benign growth and she has received the all-clear, but her appearance was greatly affected by radiotherapy, with dramatic weight gain and total hair loss. Most of the hair has now grown back but it has been an untidy business, and the unself-conscious way she has coped with it all has clearly inspired many.

As we said last year, she is now in danger of becoming a national treasure, a sort of politically active Queen Mum, well on her way to becoming an icon. She has worked well with most in Northern Ireland but she also has bitter enemies there. One or more senior people in her department are dead against her and have emitted a stream of leaks intended to damage her. Many Unionist politicians dislike her, regarding her as too "green" and preferring to do business with the Prime Minister rather than with her. The different community attitudes towards her were shown in an opinion poll which showed 80 per cent of Catholics, but only 56 of Protestants, rated her as doing a good job.

Dr Mowlam said yesterday: "It's a great pleasure and an honour and I thank the readers for their support, but in receiving it I remember all the women in Northern Ireland and the Republic who have done so much to move this peace process forward. I'd like to share this with all the young girls, and boys, who can now grow up and do what I've done or whatever they choose. The future will, I hope, be better for them now."

Like Mo Mowlam, John Hume has a problem with Unionists, who for years opposed the peace process he helped launch before they hesitantly decided to climb on board the bandwagon. He and David Trimble might have jointly won the Nobel peace prize but, as their body language at last week's Oslo presentation ceremony demonstrated, there is little rapport between them.

NONETHELESS, the considerable success already chalked up in the process is an indication that progress has not been dependent upon rapport or personal chemistry. In a way it is one of the underlying strengths of the process Mr Hume helped create that it is based on deep well-springs of hope for peace, rather than personalities.

This has been a good year for him, with the Nobel prize and other awards coming his way, but there had previously been many tough years. A few years ago, when his vision of an inclusive peace process was regarded by many as a dangerous political heresy, a Dublin newspaper summed up his situation: "Mr Hume is on the highest of high wires, with no safety net and with a great many enemies who would only too happily see him plunge to his political doom."

His supporters now see the risks he took then as vindicated, but the years of living dangerously have taken their toll on his health and stamina. Unlike Dr Mowlam, Mr Hume rarely conveys cheerfulness in public: his temperament is too broodingly Celtic for that.

But if he is not noted for personal jollity his admirers nonetheless say he successfully conveyed a sense that there existed an exit route from the troubles, and deserved credit for infusing hope and optimism into a Northern Ireland political system which has so often been prey to scepticism and despair.

John Hume said yesterday: "I feel very honoured to be selected by readers of the Independent on Sunday since as a newspaper it has given such comprehensive and objective coverage. I'm very pleased to be honoured with a Secretary of State who has done so much for peace. The fact that readers have concentrated in their responses on Northern Ireland underlines the powerful sympathy and goodwill that exists for our situation, in Britain and across the world."


THERE are some awards that have to be discontinued because the same person keeps winning them. And although this was only the second Independent on Sunday People of the Year award, the danger signs are already there in the Woman of the Year category, in which Mo Mowlam was so dominant that she retained her title with more than twice as many votes as her nearest rival.

Clare Short, Cherie Blair, the Queen and Ann Widdecombe (respectively second, third, fourth and fifth last year) confirmed their popularity, but all four had to move down the order to accommodate new entrants in Hillary Clinton, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Doreen Lawrence. At the opposite end of the scale there were votes for, among others, Liz Davies, Julie Andrews, Clarissa Dickson Wright, Posh Spice, Carol Vorderman, Ffion Hague, Jana Novotna, and Kirsty Wark.

A three-horse race for Man of the Year saw Tony Blair, a clear winner last year, edged out. Gordon Brown (fifth in '97) plummeted to equal 18th, proving precisely as popular as George Michael. Nelson Mandela and Ken Livingstone finished in the same positions as last year, and Prince Charles moved up two places. Gerry Adams was just pipped for a place in the top 10, and there was strong support for George Mitchell. Other choices for Man of the Year embraced such diverse figures as Gerhard Schroder, Ron Davies, Michael J Fox, Arsene Wenger, Prince Edward, Lord Cranborne, the Dalai Lama, Angus Fraser, Ian Dury and Sir Simon Rattle.

As expected, readers were split on which category was appropriate for Bill Clinton, a position Tony Blair likewise found himself in for the second year running (the PM was fifth in the villains' list in '97). While, in the villainy stakes, both men benefited from General Pinochet's return to public consciousness, more significant, perhaps, was that Kenneth Starr came out of the Lewinsky affair in a much worse light than the President. Nor was Linda Tripp's role forgotten.

Good news for Jonathan Aitken: the top villain of '97 received just one nomination this year.


1 John Hume

2 Kofi Annan

3 Tony Blair

4 Bill Clinton

5 Prince Charles

6 Nelson Mandela

7 David Trimble

8 Neville Lawrence

9= Ken Livingstone

Michael Owen


1 Mo Mowlam

2 Hillary Clinton

3 Aung San Suu Kyi

4 Doreen Lawrence

5 The Queen

6 Clare Short

7 Monica Lewinsky

8 Ann Widdecombe

9 Cherie Blair

10 Delia Smith


1 Saddam Hussein

2 Slobodan Milosevic

3 Kenneth Starr

4 General Pinochet

5 Bill Clinton

6 Tony Blair

7 Ian Paisley

8= Rupert Murdoch

Geoffrey Boycott

10= Margaret Thatcher

Benjamin Netanyahu

Linda Tripp

Ten readers whose entries were drawn out of the hat will each receive a bottle of champagne. They are:

Mrs J Foster, of Ipswich

Matthew Kyeremeh, of Thornton Heath

Hazel Hawkridge Ashleigh, of Brixham

P Robinson, of London NW11

Judy McCulloch, of Edinburgh

Michael Hart, of Eastbourne

Mr R Scruton, of Northallerton

Greg Thornton, of Leicester

Antony Bachini, of Dunstable

E Kocik, of Leicester