Awards for people who stand up for their beliefs : first winners announced
We all love awards ceremonies and so this morning I am launching my own awards and will from time to time announce the winners in this column.
Hepburn’s Heroic Awards will be bestowed upon those rare people who have the courage of their convictions and the bravery to defy the so called ‘will of the people’. Readers are invited to nominate heroes but should be aware that I have the casting vote. Today I can reveal the names of the first three award winners.
The bronze award goes to Gateshead Council whose members last week unanimously voted not to welcome President Trump to a town which J B Priestly famously described in 1935, as appearing “to have been carefully planned by an enemy of the human race.” The Donald could not have tweeted it with more spite.
The President is rumoured to have set his heart on a round of golf with Her Majesty at Balmoral and it is not known if Gateshead figures on his itinerary. But hurrah to the Councillors for making their position clear. Gateshead has the second highest number of Syrian refugees in the country and the Council is right to show solidarity.
Some will say this is meaningless gesture politics but I do not agree. The President’s now infamous executive order will cost the lives of refugees waiting for safe haven, Amnesty says, and every small act shows our disapproval of the inhumanity and thoughtlessness of the White House.
A speech in the Palace of Westminster was much more likely to be in President Trump’s sights but last night John Bercow used his right as Speaker to ban him because of Trump’s “sexism and racism”. Bercow gets a last minute bronze award too.
The silver award is hung round the neck of Newcastle North MP Catherine McKinnell for being the only North East Member brave enough to vote against triggering Article 50 last week. The Hush Puppy award for lifetime achievement goes, of course, to Kenneth Clarke, for being true to the European ideal.
In his speech, Clarke referred back to Edmund Burke’s classic distinction between a member of parliament being a delegate, who is mandated to vote as instructed, or a representative, who follows his beliefs as Jeremy Corbyn used to do.
McKinnell’s statement, printed in Friday’s Journal, is more nuanced. She said she could not give Theresa May a blank cheque and allow her to leave the European Union in a way that could be “enormously damaging” for the region. McKinnell plans to support an amendment requiring greater consultation when the committee stage of the Bill is debated this week. More awards are on offer here for Members who speak up for the right of parliament to oversee the most fundamental change to the United Kingdom in our lifetime. It is unfortunately forcing us to hold hands squirming our way down Pennsylvania Avenue.
The Journal letter writers will be sharpening their pencils to say that my side lost the referendum and that I should accept the result with good grace. The arithmetic was not that convincing. The Leave majority was far less than would be required for a Trade Union to call a strike or for parliament to be dissolved.
I may have lost the vote but I have the right to protest on every street corner dishing out awards for heroism to any one I find dodging the flack. This brings me with a drum roll to the first gold award.
Sometimes you can be brave by just doing the day job. That is what James Robart did this week in a court in Seattle and for which he receives the gold award. It takes courage to stand up to the President of the United States who was quick to criticise him for making a “ridiculous decision”.
The Trump administration justified banning people from Muslim countries by reference to the 9/11 attacks. Judge Robart pointed out that none of the terrorist attacks in the United States were committed by foreign nationals arriving from the seven countries banned under the order. He was ”asked to look and determine if the executive order is rationally based” he told the Justice Department attorney, “and grounded in fact instead of fiction.” It is not.
Judge Robart gets the award for calmly picking up the facts of the matter and not getting swept away by the storm. A demagogue is dangerous when pronouncements lose touch with common sense reality and must be countered by innumerable small points of order.
It is easy to say that Trump will blow himself out and that ham fisted advisors will flounder. We cannot rely on them to cock up. Steve Bannon, the self styled Thomas Cromwell at court who sits on the Security Council, expects a 50 year Trump dynasty and foresees a necessary war in the South China seas to make America great again. Even if there is only a small chance of these wild predictions coming true, we must stand up to them now.
So turn up for the award ceremony at Grey’s Monument on 20th February. There will be a huge turnout to protest that Trump is not welcome here. I hope James Robart is packing his bags to collect his award. He may have triggered a constitutional crisis and I would like to shake his hand.
Published in Newcastle Journal Tuesday 7th February