Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

No Guardian Angels

In A.Graham, Reviews on August 10, 2010 at 2:52 pm

‘Britain’s Everyday Heroes’ by Gordon Brown

Non-fiction/society/charity & government review by A. Graham

Those folk who unsparingly involve themselves in community work play an important part in our society. They often give of their time unstintingly, for little or no reward. And perhaps their role today is even more important than it was, as decades of Thatcherite and “New Labour” policies lead to the unravelling of the social fabric.

This book consists of thirty profiles of individuals who have committed themselves to trying to plug the holes that are appearing in our communities. There are those who work with alienated youngsters, some trying to deal with the social problems of inner city areas, others working with immigrants and carers. And there is one on the man who worked hard to make Garstang, in Lancashire, Britain’s first “fairtrade” town.

There is also an introduction, together with some linking pieces, in which Gordon Brown outlines his own “vision” – and how these “everyday heroes” fit in with it.

And it’s here that I begin to feel distinctly uncomfortable. “The values that matter for a good society – individuals doing their duty, communities coming together and a supportive government playing its part – are familiar to me,” he writes. I may be accused of quoting out of context here, but it does seem to me to beg a number of questions. First, what does he mean by “individuals doing their duty”? Duty to whom or what? And doesn’t his vision of society have any place for the rebel with a cause? And what’s this about a “supportive” government? Is it the role of government merely to be supportive? Who, after all, supplies the fabric that holds our society together?

It has been suggested that this book may well be an indication of how Brown will be approaching the social agenda. It’s a view of our society held together by a network of responsible citizens, all giving time and energy to the betterment of the less fortunate or the alienated in our midst.

To me it smacks of that Hollywood masterpiece, It’s a Wonderful Life, in which James Stewart, almost single handedly, makes his community a fit place to live in – despite the evil machinations of the local developer and entrepreneur, Mr Potter.

I always enjoy the film when it appears on our TV screen at Christmas time. It’s the classic US view of the “little man” winning the day. Sadly, though, there are no guardian angels, and in reality the Potters of this world would have won out – and indeed might well have been taken on board as advisors to Brown’s Cabinet, where they could lecture us all on “wealth creation”.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to knock those whose life and work is described in this book. They are all dedicated, committed folk who give a lot. As things stand, we may well need them. But there’s no way that we should come to rely on them.

Indeed, wouldn’t it be preferable if we had the kind of society that didn’t need the kind of remedial work that they undertake? And in the meantime, isn’t there also a need for the rebels, the “awkward squad” who are prepared to campaign for the betterment of our society as a whole?

Price £10.99p, from Community Links. ISBN 97845963071.


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