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CentreForum’s ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ #17 – Boris Johnson and Malala Yousafzai

October 12, 2012

ImageWelcome to the 17th in our series — Liberal Hero of the Week — as chosen by Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and Research Associate at CentreForum

The aim is to showcase public figures who help promote the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book: economic, personal, political and social liberalism. We highlight individuals regardless of their party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism then they’re in contention.

Boris Johnson

Conservative Mayor of London..
Reason: For his pro-immigration stance and opposition to the Coalition’s immigration cap.

Cognitive dissonance (n.): the state of holding two or more conflicting cognitions (e.g., ideas, beliefs, values, emotional reactions) simultaneously.

The Conservative party can be an odd beast.

On the one hand, they view David Cameron with suspicion, and some with outright contempt, for his not-quite-Tory-enough views on ‘trendy, left-wing’ issues like gay marriage. On the other hand, they cheer to the rafters Boris Johnson as an authentic voice of full-throated conservatism despite his “what’s all the fuss about?” support for gay marriage.

On the one hand, the Conservative party stands up for classically liberal free market economics: they champion the free movement of goods, services, labour and capital, and the rights of the risk-taking entrepreneur to be able to hire and fire at will. On the other hand, they froth in favour of tight state regulation of the labour market if it means businesses wanting to employ more skilled migrants than the Government’s 20,700 annual quota allows.

Of course the real reason Tories love Boris Johnson (besides the good jokes) is that he’s the only Conservative in the last two decades to win outright a majority at the ballot box in a major election. Conservatives exist to govern, to be in power. Boris’s proven ability to do just that — and to win re-election — trumps whatever he may have had to say and do in order to get elected; just as Tory members suspended their suspicion of David Cameron up to May 2010 when he failed to defeat the least popular post-war Labour government. For the moment, therefore, Tories are quite content in their cognitive dissonance, loving Boris for holding views they disagree with.

His bravest stance within the Tory party — albeit a necessary one to win election as London mayor — is his support for immigration. And even on the eve of the Conservative conference, he was at it again, urging the Government to “allow the best and brightest to come here, contribute and thrive”. He has actively welcomed the setting up of a new cross-party group, Migration Matters, as an evidence-based counterbalance to the anti-immigration Migration Watch. Migration Matters, co-chaired by Labour’s Barbara Roche and the Tories’ Gavin Barwell (a previous Liberal Hero), has a self-declared aim of exploding three ‘migration myths’:

• That migration is a net economic burden
Migration Matters says that immigration boosts the UK’s GDP by 0.5% annually according to the Office of Budget Responsibility
• The UK is being swamped by migrants
It says that current migration levels are no greater than the rate from the early 1900s to 1970.
• Migrants are taking all the new jobs in the UK.
Migration Matters says that, according to the Office of National Statistics, only one in ten new jobs in the UK goes to an immigrant.

“Your principle aim,” Boris wrote to the group, “is an important one in an area often riddled with inaccurate claims, differing opinion and, consequently, strains and tension.” For this declaration in favour of a rigorous, liberal approach to immigration — at a time when both his own party and the Labour party are retreating to isolationist populism on the issue — Boris is my Liberal Hero of the Week.

Honourable mention: Malala Yousafzai

14 year-old Pakistani campaigner for girls’ education rights attacked by the Taliban
Reason: For fearlessly standing up for her beliefs at what has proved to be great personal cost

The BBC’s Orla Guerin’s report sums up why Malala is a true hero:

Malala Yousafzai is one of the best-known schoolgirls in the country. Young as she is, she has dared to do what many others do not – publicly criticise the Taliban. Malala’s confident, articulate campaign for girls’ education has won her admirers – and recognition – at home and abroad. She has appeared on national and international television, and spoken of her dream of a future Pakistan where education would prevail.

Her campaigning effectiveness was rewarded by the Taliban with a bullet through the head:

Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head on her way home from school in Mingora, the main town in the Swat Valley. The president and prime minister have led condemnation of the attack. Initial reports suggested she was out of danger, but there is growing concern over her condition with some reports saying she may need treatment abroad. A Pakistani Taliban spokesman told the BBC they carried out the attack. Ehsanullah Ehsan told BBC Urdu that they attacked her because she was anti-Taliban and secular, adding that she would not be spared.

You can read Malala’s diary for the BBC here. Our thoughts must be with Malala and her family for her safe recovery to full health and vitality.

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

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