Diamonds In The Mud
‘Powerful, vital and visionary’ – Jimmy McGovern
SOMETHING unusual happened in Britain during the spring of 2020. As the nation went into lockdown to fight a killer pandemic our view of what constituted a hero changed.
Suddenly celebrity businessmen, actors, sports stars, singers, even royals seemed irrelevant. The people we were truly in awe of were the low-paid lifesavers, so much so that we stood outside our homes every Thursday to applaud them.
As spring turned to summer and the Black Lives Matter movement gathered momentum, action was taken against those from past generations who had been feted, such as Bristol slave trader Edward Colston whose statue was hauled down. It felt as though the country was re-evaluating the notion of heroism. But how did we arrive at such a skewed version of it?
‘Diamonds in the Mud’ asks why the British have traditionally been taught to venerate kings and queens, generals and Eton-educated Prime Ministers, while, a few notable exceptions aside, those who changed history from below rarely got a look-in.
It does so by telling the stories of a selection of working-class heroes the award-winning writer has met through life and journalism. Men and women who rose from humble backgrounds to change the world. Some in a huge way, others in a smaller way, but all made the people they came from immensely proud.
From relentless matriarchs like Doreen Lawrence and the Hillsborough mothers to Omagh bomb victim Donna Marie McGillion whose stoicism told the men of terror they wouldn’t win; from football men like Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley who brought their people joy to the Fans Supporting Foodbanks group and Marcus Rashford who fed the poor; from class warriors like Dennis Skinner to glass-ceiling breakers like Barbara Castle; from trade union leader Jack Jones who fought fascists in Spain to Muhammad Ali who inspired a generation of British black people to stand tall; from sacked dockers who opened a social justice hub for all-comers to NHS nurses who lost their lives on the Covid frontline as they battled to save others.
The book argues that these are the type of heroes we should be teaching future generations about. That, perhaps, if children in state schools were taught about the achievements of those from the same class as them they would have a fraction of the confidence enjoyed by public school pupils and realise that they too have the capability to change the world.
And maybe Britain would become less of a cap-doffing nation that teaches ordinary people the main thing they need to know is their place.
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