CentreForum’s ‘Liberal Hero of the Week’ #3 – HM The Queen

by Stephen Tall on June 29, 2012

ImageWelcome to the third in a new series here on CentreForum’s blog — Liberal Hero of the Week — as chosen by Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and Research Associate at CentreForum. 

The aim is simple enough: to showcase public figures who help promote the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book: economic, personal, political and social liberalism. We will be highlighting individuals regardless of their party affiliation, and indeed from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism then they’re in contention. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.

HM The Queen

Head of State, UK
Reason: for her role in showing reconciliation in the name of peace.

A little over 30 years ago, the IRA assassinated the Queen’s cousin:

The explosion which killed Lord Mountbatten, his grandson Nicholas, aged 15, and his boatman, Paul Maxwell, aged 16, happened in full view of a Garda police patrol as it followed the progress of the boat from Mullaghmore harbour yesterday morning. The boat was only a few hundred yards from shore when the blast occurred and it sank immediately. … Eye-witnesses said that the explosion was so violent that the boat disintegrated. Dennis Devlin, aged 14, on holiday with his parents, said, “The whole boat blew up in the air and came down in little pieces. There were bodies in the water and people screamed.” Mr Brian McNulty, owner of the Beach Hotel, said that Lord Mountbatten was dead when brought ashore. “He appeared to have died from his injuries rather than drowning. The body was very badly mutilated.” (The Guardian, 28 August 1979)

This week, the Queen met former Provisional IRA leader, and current deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, Martin McGuinness.

They shook hands. She smiled. He wished her “Goodbye and God speed” in Irish.

Yes, this was an act of symbolism crafted for the watching cameras. But this was more than mere gesture, this was also a deeply personal act of reconciliation which spoke to the capacity for hope to endure experience.

Standing up to terrorists requires us to stand up for personal freedom

But it was also a timely reminder for liberals. For three decades the IRA mounted an active campaign of armed struggle within the UK, assassinating public figures and executing private citizens, even attempting mass murder of the Cabinet and Prime Minister. The British response was the Prevention of Terrorism Act, a temporary act introduced in 1974 by that great liberal Roy Jenkins, when he was Labour home secretary. He conceded ‘these powers are draconian. In combination they are unprecedented in peacetime’.

Yet viewed from contemporary vantage, it’s more striking how un-draconian the Government of the day was: a temporary Act with a sunset clause which meant it had to be renewed annually, and whose powers were targeted solely against the terrorists themselves. Compared to the Continuity Blair/Brown/Cameron/Clegg Governments’ sustained efforts to use state power indiscriminately to encroach on personal freedoms ‘for the greater good’, the early incarnations of the Prevention of Terrorism Act seem old-fashionedly proportionate in comparison.

HM The Queen, as a constitutional monarch, has no say over which Acts she signs into law. But her action this week was a dignified demonstration of the optimistic human condition required to counter all threats to personal freedom.

Honourable mention:

US Supreme Court Justice John Roberts: a conservative appointee of President George W. Bush (whose confirmation Barack Obama voted against), for his role both in securing healthcare for millions of Americans by permitting government to mandate that individuals carry health insurance, and for defending the right of democratically elected leaders to govern.

* Stephen Tall has been Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice since 2007, and also writes at his own site, StephenTall.org. He tweets @stephentall. Please submit your nominations for future ‘Liberals of the Week’ to Stephen by email or via Twitter. You can view our list of ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and ‘Liberal Villains of the Month’ in due course) here.