The public are screaming out for leaders of principle. But do our parties have any to offer?

Our writer, who set up the Contrarian Prize to recognise politicians of courage and conviction, says the demand for such people in public life is greater than ever

Share

If there was ever a clear example of a contrarian, Malala Yousafzai - a 15 year old girl from Pakistan’s Swat Valley - is it.  Malala who has consistently fought for the right of girls in her area to be allowed to be educated, was brutally shot through the head by Taliban militants on October 9 and is now recovering in a Birmingham hospital.  Whilst the actions of these zealots has sickened the world, the courage of this child has moved and inspired it.

So where are our British contrarians and why is it important to recognise them? The trust and reputation of key institutions within our country has reached a nadir.  Parliament after the expenses scandal, the press following phone-hacking, the police in the wake the Hillsborough cover-up, the banks given the financial crisis, and now that bastion of British public life - the BBC - over the Jimmy Saville affair.

Self-serving, corrupt, crooks and legalised thieves were just some of the words used to describe our leaders when I personally vox-popped people randomly on the street. The paltry turnout in the recent Police and Crime Commissioner elections highlights how disengaged the public has become from the ruling classes. It would be easy to despair, to resign oneself to believing that they are a pusillanimous bunch of stooges driven by a desire to climb the greasy pole. But they are not “all the same”. There are certain individuals in British public life who do stand up for what they believe and as a corollary, sacrifice personal career progression.

Taking a stand

The rebellion on reform of the House of Lords in July in which 91 Conservative MPs opposed the government’s desire to move towards a chamber where 80% of peers would be elected, is a case in point. Whether or not one agrees with this position, the very fact that these MPs took a stand should be recognised. Indeed two of them who were ministerial aides - Connor Burns who resigned and Angie Bray who was sacked - paid the price. Jesse Norman, a philosophical architect of Cameroonism, who would almost certainly have been tipped for office in the recent reshuffle, put paid to any chance of that as the ringleader of the rebels. 

The same desire to act on principle was displayed in the recent rebellion led by 51 Conservative MPs who wish to see a real-terms cut in the EU budget on the grounds that the behemoth should cut its coat according to its cloth.

Such courage is not new. Robin Cook displayed it when he resigned his Cabinet position as leader of the House of Commons in 2003 when he refused to support the Iraq war.  Conservative whip John Randall showed similar resolve when he too resigned his position as he did not believe that military action at the time was justified.    

These individuals could not be bought off.  This trait is being exhibited by an increasing number of politicians in an era where the public can scrutinise the behaviour of MPs more closely than ever before.  It may also be due to the fact that a number of MPs of the 2010 intake got into Parliament by ploughing their own furrow, not as a result of the largesse of their party’s leadership.  That has led them to feel more liberated.

Away from politics, a good example of a Contrarian is Giles Fraser who resigned his position in October 2011 as Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s in protest over the forced removal of “Occupy” protestors camped outside the cathedral.  He is currently the parish priest of St Mary’s Newington in South London.

Substance

Another is the scientific author Simon Singh.  In 2008 he was sued for libel by the British Chiropractic Association for criticising it for defending some of its members who use treatments on children with conditions such as colic and asthma where he felt there was little evidence.  Instead of simply withdrawing his claims, Singh fought in the courts on the grounds of the defence of fair comment and won.  It cost him £200,000 and two years of his life but it highlighted the importance of the principle of open scientific discussion.

The British public deserves leaders of substance. Indeed the founder of the Independent newspaper, Andreas Whittam Smith, is so concerned that he has established a movement entitled “Democracy 2015”, which aims to encourage a new generation of non-professional politicians from a variety of backgrounds to run as independent candidates at the next general election.

The Contrarian Prize seeks to recognise individuals in British public life who put principle above personal advancement, demonstrate independence of thought, display courage and conviction in their actions, and introduce new ideas into the public realm. Any member of the public can nominate via the website and the deadline is 31 December 2012. A shortlist will be announced in the New Year with the prize being awarded in March.  History may, in time, judge such individuals to be statesmen.

The writer is a Chartered Accountant and former Conservative parliamentary candidate

www.contrarianprize.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A pack of seagulls squabble over discarded food left on the beach at St Ives on July 28, 2015  

Number of urban seagulls in Britain nearly quadruples: Hide food and avoid chicks to stay in gulls’ good books

Tom Bawden
 

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

RuPaul interview

The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head