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Britain’s Everyday Heroes: The Making of the Good Society, by Gordon Brown

Britain’s Everyday Heroes reads as if it were drawn up by a
democratic subcommittee comprising Church of Scotland prelates and those people
who compose the local-authority job adverts for The Guardian – which is not too
far from the truth, as it happens, writes Rod Liddle. (In an author’s
note, Gordon thanks the charity Community Links for researching the stories
“that are now told” – an odd way, surely, for an “author” to refer to his work.)
The prose is colourless, deathly and grim. “I’ve been to Leicester several times
in recent months,” may go down as the least arresting opening line to a chapter
in the history of literature, although there’s plenty more where that came from.

More to the point, we find out nothing about the people who have done
all these good deeds; there is no insight into their character, nothing to make
them come alive for us. Bruce Crowther, for example, who led the team of
campaigners that made Garstang, in Lancashire, the “world’s first Fairtrade
Town” may well be an interesting chap – but in Gordon’s clunking fist, he
doesn’t even exist. He is simply a cipher for his good works. That’s because the
purpose of this book was not to bring Crowther and the rest of them to our
attention, but to bring Gordon to our attention. To let us know that he thinks
people who do good things are, um, a good thing and thus to bask in a little bit
of reflected glory. But even the principal character of this book – Gordon Brown
– steadfastly refuses the temptation to leap off the page and nor are we
afforded an insight into his political philosophy. Selfless, community-aware,
individualism (which used to be called, with the trace of a sneer, “hobbit
socialism”) clearly appeals to Gordon, but he does not tell us how governments
might harness such disparate energy, nor even if they should do so. He
announces, at the outset, that the people he writes about here “have given me a
fresh insight into the needs and aspirations of our country,” but he declines to
share that insight with the rest of us.

• Full story at the Sunday Times.

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