Liberal Hero of the Week #31: Hilary Mantel. Our Liberal Villain: George Galloway

by Stephen Tall on February 24, 2013

Liberal Hero of the Week is chosen by Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and Research Associate at CentreForum. The series showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention.

mantel - lib hero

Hilary Mantel

Author of Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies
Reason: for exposing the hypocrisy of tabloid attitudes to the Royal Family

A week ago I read a couple of very good articles in the London Review of Books (LRB).

The first was by David Runciman, Take a bullet for the team, which explores the Profumo Affair and is rich in delicious details I’d never heard of — for example, that in 1945 Profumo became the youngest brigadier in the British army, dislodging Enoch Powell from that position; or that when Mandy Rice-Davies infamously remarked of Lord Astor’s denial he ever had sex with her, ‘Well, he would, wouldn’t he?’, “all the evidence suggests Astor was telling the truth, and Rice-Davies was lying”.

The second was by Hilary Mantel, author of Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies (the latter of which I’m currently making very slow progress through). As I innocently tweeted:

I hadn’t realised as I was reading Ms Mantel’s attack on the public’s and media’s gawp-and-stare treatment of the Royal Family that I was supposed to be offended on behalf of Kate Middleton (HRH The Duchess of Cambridge). Thankfully, the Daily Mail, that art-exponent of the press’s hypocritical ability simultaneously to laud and leer, was on hand to put me right. Their 23-word portmantaeu headline actually looks like it might have been spewed out by the brilliant spoof Daily Mail-o-matic website:

Kate puts her baby bump on parade as Prime Minister mauls best-selling author Hilary Mantel over ‘plastic princess made for breeding’ jibe

After crafting that, I’m sure the Mail’s sub-editor called out ‘Bingo!’

However, being on the sharp end of the Mail’s synthetic outrage isn’t (quite) enough to make you a Liberal Hero. What elevates Hilary Mantel’s — and specifically her LRB article — is her subtle appreciation of how trapped the royals are by the trappings of royalty:

I used to think that the interesting issue was whether we should have a monarchy or not. But now I think that question is rather like, should we have pandas or not? Our current royal family doesn’t have the difficulties in breeding that pandas do, but pandas and royal persons alike are expensive to conserve and ill-adapted to any modern environment. But aren’t they interesting? Aren’t they nice to look at? Some people find them endearing; some pity them for their precarious situation; everybody stares at them, and however airy the enclosure they inhabit, it’s still a cage.

And in particular her appeal to all of us — those who write for the newspapers and those who devour them — to allow the Duchess the space to be herself, rather than expecting her to fit the moulded figure we want her to represent:

Cheerful curiosity can easily become cruelty. It can easily become fatal. We don’t cut off the heads of royal ladies these days, but we do sacrifice them, and we did memorably drive one to destruction a scant generation ago. History makes fools of us, makes puppets of us, often enough. But it doesn’t have to repeat itself. In the current case, much lies within our control. I’m not asking for censorship. I’m not asking for pious humbug and smarmy reverence. I’m asking us to back off and not be brutes.

For her humanity, and her request to all of us to observe more of it, Hilary Mantel is this week’s Liberal Hero.

galloway - villain

George Galloway

Respect MP for Bradford
Reason: for refusing to debate with an Israeli student… because he was Israeli

I think I will leave it to Mr Galloway to explain in his own words why I’ve nominated him:

Galloway interrupted the third-year philosophy, politics and economics student at Brasenose college when Aslan-Levy used the word “we” in reference to Israel.

“You said ‘we’,” said Galloway. “Are you an Israeli?”

“I am, yes,” Aslan-Levy replied.

“I don’t debate with Israelis. I have been misled, sorry,” Galloway said, standing and putting on his coat, then reiterating as he walked out: “I don’t recognise Israel and I don’t debate with Israelis.”

Here’s the video:

And here’s Mr Aslan-Levy in his own words, speaking afterwards:

To refuse to talk to someone just because of their nationality is pure racism, and totally unacceptable for a member of parliament.

Quite.

* You can view our list of ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.