Tuesday, June 27, 2006

My Top 10 Political Heroes

I've done books, speeches, gaffes, journalists and blogs, so as a logical conclusion to the political Top 10s series, here's my list of the politicians I most admire from home and abroad.

1. Sir Winston Churchill. Okay, so he was a Conservative and an imperialist, and I am neither. But maybe you don't choose your political heroes, maybe they choose you, and try as I might, I can't put the man who saved the country from Nazi tyranny anywhere other than at Number One. Yes, he had his faults. For a start, he was pissed for most of the Second World War, which puts Charles Kennedy's problems into their proper perspective. But sentimental old sod that I am, hearing those "fight them on the beaches" speeches still brings tears to my eyes. "We will never surrender."

2. Denis Healey. A theme of lost leaders run through this Top 10, and if Churchill was the greatest Prime Minister we ever had, Denis was surely the greatest we never had. It is the enduring tragedy of the British left that he didn't get the top job instead of James Callaghan in 1976. Had he done so, he might have taken on and beaten the unions himself instead of waiting for Mrs Thatcher to do it, and thereby relegated her to a footnote in Tory history. The man with the legendary hinterland, his autobiography, "The Time of My Life" is the best political book of the last 30 years.

3. Anthony Crosland. If Healey was the left's lost leader, then Crosland was its greatest thinker. He was never a realistic candidate for the leadership, but he is regarded by many Whitehall mandarins as the best departmental minister of all time. His seminal work "The Future of Socialism" in 1956 became the creed of the so-called "revisionists" who aimed to adapt socialism to modern circumstances and was cited by Tony Blair as an inspiration behind New Labour. Personally, I think the entire Blair project would have made this great egalitarian turn sharply in his grave.

4. David Lloyd George. One of three genuine radicals to occupy 10 Downing Street in the 20th century - Attlee and Thatcher, in their different ways, were the others - the "Welsh Wizard" turned on Britain's antiquated class system with unparalleled ferocity. As possibly the greatest reforming Chancellor of all time, his Budgets did as much to lay the foundations of the welfare state as Beveridge's famous report thirty years later. The first PM from a genuinely working-class background, he sadly fell prey to the corruptions of office and a cash-for-honours scandal. Plus ca change...

5. Mikhail Gorbachev. I was a bit of Kremlinologist in my younger days, deriving endless fascination from the machinations of the Soviet Politburo. Mikhail Gorbachev was at least 10 years younger than the rest of the Russian gerontocracy, but he sliced through them like a knife through butter to succeed Konstantin Chernenko in 1983. He then proceded to revolutionise the Soviet Union and with it world politics. Admirers of Reagan and Thatcher like to claim they won the Cold War. Wrong. It was Gorbachev's political courage that really brought down the Berlin Wall.

6. Albino Luciani, Pope John Paul I. Okay, so the Vatican City State is not really a country, and the Pope is not really a political leader, but I had to get him in somewhere. This was the man who was pontiff for 33 days before he was murdered by an unholy alliance of freemasons, mafiosi and corrupt cardinals. The church lost a humble, holy man who might well have abandoned the Vatican Palace and lived in a Roman slum as a genuinely prophetic Christian witness to the world. Instead, Catholicism fell into the clutches of the hardliners Wojtyla and Ratzinger. It has not recovered.

7. Bishop Abel Muzorewa. Most people would think of Bishop Desmond Tutu as the greatest African churchman of recent times but I had tremendous sympathy for this brave little bishop who briefly led "Zimbabwe-Rhodesia" in 1978-79. Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo resfused to accept the so-called "internal settlement," and the British staged a conference to find a political solution that included them. When Mugabe won the resulting election we congratulated ourselves on a smooth handover to black majority rule. White Zimbabweans who knew Mugabe better disagreed, and they were right.

8. Martin Luther King Jnr. Second only to Churchill among the ranks of 20th century orators, his speeches inspired a generation not just within the American civil rights movement but around the world. I love the analogy he drew between arbitrary musical categorisations and the artificial divisions within humanity. "Today on this program you will hear gospel, and rhythm, and blues, and jazz - but all those are just labels. We know that music is music." Died a hero's death, but like Lloyd George, his personal life did not always reflect his high Christian ideals.

9. Henry John Temple, Lord Palmerston. My favourite 19th century Prime Minister, his famous last words were "die, my dear doctor - that's the last thing I will do!" But as well as this memorable quote he also made the definitive statement of British foreign policy in the 19th century: "We have no perpetual allies and no eternal enemies. Our interests are perpetual and eternal and these we support." His words still have resonance today. Would that Tony Blair could have approached the Iraq issue on the basis of whether British interests, rather than perpetual alliances, were at stake.

10. Michael Heseltine. The second of two names on my list who should have been Prime Minister but weren't, the Tories made a catastrophic error in overlooking Tarzan. He'd have been a great Prime Minister and would have weaned his party off the absurd Little Englander mentality that contributed to its three successive election defeats. Should have been rewarded for his political courage in getting rid of Thatcher when it was clear she had become an electoral liability. Instead, his fate was to be largely vilified by a party still hopelessly in thrall to its defeated heroine.

And that's it. If I could have chosen my Prime Ministers of the past 30 years, they would have read something like: Healey 1976-1983. Heseltine 1983-1992. Smith 1992-94. Brown 1994-to date. We would now be a much more civilised, social democratic country, instead of one where so-called Labour governments dance to the increasingly shrill tones of the Murdoch press. But for Gordon, at least, it is not too late.....

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Anonymous said...

Great stuff - except for Brown, natch.

Now can we have Political Villains?

stalin's gran said...

What about Josef Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, eh?

Richard Bailey said...

I shan't be able to read this blog in the same light again.
What, Gordon Brown???
The man's a financial terrorist.

Paul Linford said...

David/Gran - there are too many villains to mention, but Dzhugashvili, not Hitler, would be top of my list, on account of having killed about twice as many people.

Richard - if you've not realised by now that I'm a big Gordon Brown fan, I question whether you ever have read this blog!

Anonymous said...

You're wrong to dismiss Thatcher and Reagan's contribution to the end of the Cold War. The deployment of Cruise missiles in retaliation for the deployment of SS-20s, plus SDI, helped Gorbachev and the rest of the Soviet leadership to realise they couldn't win the arms race with the West.

Anonymous said...

Good list Paul - although what is the source for the murder of John Paul I other than David Yallop and Godfather III?
As for Churchill's faults - you could have mentioned the Tonypandy massacre, Gallipoli, the racist dismissal of Gandhi as a "semi-naked fakir", the early support for Mussolini as a bulwark against Bolshevism, the fact he was just plain wrong about the scale of German re-armament in the 1930s (it's arguable that his alarmism was a factor in Chamberlain's capitulation at Munich), the unforgivable comparison of Labour to the Gestapo in the 1945 election campaign and the way his increasing unfitness for office was hidden from the nation during his second premiership. And yet, frustratingly, infuriatingly, you can't put him anywhere else but top of the list.

Anonymous said...

If there are too many villains to keep your list to a simple Top Ten, then why not just do one for the UK?

That's what we're all dying to read, anyway.

Paul Linford said...

Some very interesting comments here - keep them coming!

SaintLoupy - you could have knocked me down with a feather when I read your comment, but you are right. I have laboured under the mistaken impression that those words were taken from a MLK speech for no fewer than 14 years, ever since I first heard them on the album version Primal Scream's "Come Together." What is even more amazing is that no-one else ever pointed this out to me, even though I am somewhat prone to raving about that particular track! As they say, you learn something new every day.

RedEye - I'm not dismissing Thatcher/Reagan's contribution but I think the decisive contribution was Gorbachev's. I don't think he actually wanted to win the arms race. He wanted to dismantle the Soviet Empire, because he had the political vision to see that it was unsustainable. Gorbachev was one of those rare political leaders who was prepared to give power away, and in that lies his true greatness. Had he not been prepared to do so, and the old Brezhnevites remained in control, we would more than likely still be in a stalemate.

Stephen - some very good points about Churchill's record, notably the Gandhi comment. But I think you agree with me that he van't be placed anywhere else but No 1. As for the murder of John Paul I, I personally find David Yallop's book absolutely convincing, even if Godfather III was a bit of a joke.

David - I'll think about it. But a UK-only list of Political Villains would be meaningless in a wider context. Margaret Thatcher would of course be No 1, and she did do some things which I believe were evil - notably the systematic destruction of the coalfield communities. But how on earth can you possibly list that alongside Hitler's pogroms, Stalin's purges, Pol Pot's genocide, or the wilder excesses of Mao Tse Tung's "cultural revolution." You can't.

Anonymous said...

Paul - you could ignore Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot and Mao Tse Tung if you were just talking about UK politics.

Saying those people were a bad lot is a bit like saying that the Earth goes round the sun - everyone knows it, and most people seem to agree.

I think you've probably drawn up a mental list of candidates for your Top Ten UK Political Villains over the course of the day - you've let Margaret Thatcher's place at the Number One spot slip already - so why not let us know who else you'd put on there?

I suppose that some of your selections could be so contentious that you'd hesitate to post them here...

...but I reckon you've got the guts to do it.

Paul Linford said...

David - it's not to do with guts, its a straightforward editorial judgement. I think a list of Political Villains which excluded the likes of Adolf and Joe would be meaningless, and one which listed Mrs Thatcher alongside the likes of them would be laughable. The only list that would make any sort of sense would be one listing the greatest criminals in world political history, and that list would look something like this:

1 Stalin
2 Hitler
3 Mao
4 Pot
5 Genghis Khan
6 Herod I (Slaughter of the Innocents)
7 Nero (Set fire to Rome and blamed it on Christians)
8 Osama bin Laden
9 Jose Gaspar de Francia (Dictator of Paraguay, abolished all trade with the outside world)
10 Robert Mugabe. Not really in the league as the rest of them but I truly, truly despise this man.


Anonymous said...

Sorry, Paul, but I want to see the UK version, and I bet I'm not alone.

Tell you what - if nobody else asks to see it, I'll shut up and go away, provided that you agree to spill the beans if someone adds their voice to mine.

How about that?

Paul Linford said...

Oh, go and do some work, for fuck's sake!

Anonymous said...

I work with my brain, mate - the rest of my body is free to spend time provoking you into further endeavour in the field of political blogging.

skipper said...

What no Mandela?

Anonymous said...

It all starts to get a bit boring when a blogger imagines they are so fascinating that we want to know who they rate musically or their favourite MPs.

Ego rising, interest waning...

Paul Linford said...

Well, to be far, I'm not the only blogger who's done it - even the great Mr Dale has been known to blog the odd Top 10 now and then - and they always seem to get a fair volume of comments, so the interest is out there somewhere!

Anonymous said...

Would it be more civilised ...... or would the Breitish Economy have collapsed ???

Archbishop Cranmer said...


I'd be careful what you say about Albino Luciani. One former Tory candidate got sacked for daring to criticise the Catholic Church. Anyone with half a brain knows it's corrupt, with as much of a political agenda as Islam. It's simply that you can no longer say so.

Paul Linford said...


If the Vatican were going to go for anyone over the Albino Luciani affair, they'd have gone for David Yallop over his book or alternatively Francis Ford Coppola over Godfather III. I don't they're really all that bothered about little old me.

For the record, the Vatican spokesman issued the following statement on Yallop's book when it was first published in 1984:

"This is taking fantastical speculation to new heights of absurdity. It is fanciful and absurd."

In his preface to the Second Edition, Yallop the issued the following challenge to the Vatican, which was never taken up:

"If the Vatican can prove that my account of the discovery of Albino Luciani's body is incorrect, then I will donate all my royalties from the sale of this book to cancer research."

All of the people implicated by Yallop in the murder plot are now dead. Roberto Calvi, "God's Banker," was found hanged under Blackfriars Bridge in 1982. Mafia boss Michele Sindona died in prison. Secretary of State Cardinal Jean Villot died in 1981. Vatican Bank head Bishop Paul Marcinckus died last year. Licio Gelli, head of the P2 Masonic Lodge, died some time in the 1990s.

Archbishop Cranmer said...


They may reason that bumping of Yallop would be a bit obvious. Eliminating Linford, however, would barely raise an eyebrow...

Croydonian said...

Let us hope that there is no wet job by the Vatican on Paul.

Returning, ish, to the topic at hand, didn't Desmond Tutu say there were three reasons he didn't enter politics, one being Muzorewa, one Makarios and one someone I can't remember?

Politaholic said...

OK I’m visiting the wrong blog for this. But here goes. In no particular order.
Top 10 heroes: Spartacus, Crazy Horse, Toussaint L’Ouverture, Michael Davitt, Giordano de Brunu, Salvador Allende, Chris Hani, Alfred Dreyfus, Vo Nguyen Giap, Chou En-lai,
Top 10 Villains: Robert Clive, Robert Bulwer-Lytton, Horatio Kitchener, Bomber Harris, Kissinger, Hitler, Mussolini, Pinochet, Franco, Stalin.

Anonymous said...


How many folk were murdered (or otherwise died) by or as a result of the activities of :

1. Mr Giap

2. Chou en Lai

Wer sind :

3. Michael Davitt

4. G de Brunu

5. C Hani

Paul Linford said...

I think he means Giordano de Bruno..

Politaholic said...


To take a few random instances, how many folk were murdered (or otherwise died) as a result of:
(a) French colonialism in Vietnam (and elsewhere)? Or British colonialism for that matter?
(b) the Opium War? (I see Mr. Palmerston is one of Paul's heroes).
(c) the bombing or Iraqi tribesmen (and women and children) at the instigation of Mr. Churchill?
You guys should look in your own back yard before you stray so far from home in search of villains. How many Kikuyu were tortured and murdered by British troops during the Mao Mao "crisis"? How many died in the Bengal famine in the 1940's?

Anonymous said...


You make some good polemical points, but you have not answered the questions

I still do not know about Giordano

..... but I suppose there is always Google, if only I could find the right buttons

Are you able to help us with the numbers of innocent civilians (especially among the local Kenyan population) who were tortured or murdered by the Mau Mau terrorists

Anonymous said...

Brown 1994 - present? Time hasn't really been kind to this one has it?

Should we have bought Citigroup and a lifelong pass to the Champions' League suite at Elland Road as well?!

Paul Linford said...

On the contrary Michael, I stand by every one of my nominations from nearly three years ago.

Although I think that Gordon Brown should probably stand down before the next election in favour of Alan Johnson if it becomes clear that only the latter can stop the Etonians, I do still happen to think that Gordon would have been a very much better Prime Minister than Tony Blair if he had had the same kind of political opportunities. It was Gordon's tragedy that he took over when the political and economic tides were turning against New Labour. It would have required an extraordinary politician - a Churchill, in fact - to have made a success of the premiership in those circumstances. Blair did his party a serious disservice in staying so long beyond his sell-by date that by the time he finally went the entire brand was tarnished.

Laban said...

I thought Blair was very like Stanley Baldwin, an election-winning genius who told the people what they wanted to hear, while strategically the country slipped deeper and deeper into danger. But his antennae for his own political self-preservation were unmatched. He stepped easily off the No 10 deck for Brown just as it reached the water line, and Brown's been calling hands to the pumps ever since.