Ali Miraj is a Chartered Accountant, a former Conservative parliamentary candidate and the founder of the Contrarian Prize.
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”, according to the eminent philosopher Edmund Burke. He was right.
The Contrarian Prize, now in its third year, aims to recognise individuals in British public life that demonstrate Independence of thought; courage and conviction in their actions; make a sacrifice; and have an impact on the public debate.
Some have lost their job because of the stand they have taken, others know that they will never enjoy the trappings of high office. A number have been threatened. But speaking truth to power is of greater importance than keeping one’s head down. The short-listed contenders for the 2015 Contrarian Prize, listed below, would concur.
Simon Danczuk, the garrulous Labour MP who exposed the paedophilia of former MP Cyril Smith, and has led the charge in calling for a wide-ranging public inquiry into child sexual abuse, is a good example. In “Smile for the Camera”, a book he co-authored, he alludes to the fact that Smith could not have acted alone and must have been protected by a wider group of powerful child predators.
He has displayed considerable courage in taking on the establishment which has been conspicuously insouciant on this issue. Reports that a fellow MP warned him not to raise questions about what Lord Brittan knew about allegations of child abuse when he was Home secretary in the 1980s underline the point. His obduracy may well be vindicated as the inquiry gets into its work.
Disdain for an anodyne establishment is a tendency shared by Craig Murray, the former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan. He was sacked in 2004 for speaking out about the use of intelligence obtained by torture in Uzbekistan.
In his book, “Murder in Samarkand”, he claims that during the war on terror, the British government’s ostensible concern for human rights was secondary to maintaining good relations with the Uzbek government, which ruthlessly suppressed political dissent through the torture and killing of dissidents.
Murray railed against the “conspiracy of silence”, and accused the US of double standards by publicly condemning human rights abuses in Iraq whilst turning a blind eye to them in Uzbekistan.
Being contrarian is something “you are or you’re not” according to Nevres Kemal, a social worker who highlighted failures in child protection by Haringey Council six months before the Baby P case came to light.
Kemal joined the council in 2004 following the horrific case of Victoria Climbie, the eight-year-old tortured and murdered in 2000. But she found that the authority was failing to protect children in its care and blew the whistle.
She was subjected to a four year “witch hunt” including being wrongly accused of child abuse herself, which almost led to her own child being taken into care. She then lost her job. The council subsequently settled out of court and admitted that she had not been responsible for child abuse. However, the scars remain.
Controversy has always surrounded George Galloway, the politician who founded Respect following his expulsion from the Labour party in 2003. He arouses strong emotions both for and against.
Whilst he has his detractors, others regard him as a pugnacious hero crusading against a servile political class. But there is no doubt that this redoubtable and pertinacious figure has challenged the accepted orthodoxy. The most notable example is the Iraq War, which he regards as an egregious error.
He has fought and won two parliamentary elections since leaving Labour and has consistently excoriated political leaders on a whole range of issues including the Palestinians and Syria.
The Muslim world and its travails is something that Ed Husain, a former Islamist radical, has reflected on. He was a leading figure in a prominent Islamist group that was busily infiltrating British university campuses in the early 1990s with a virulent anti-West narrative.
At times it is difficult to believe that this phlegmatic, soft spoken, circumspect figure could have trod the path that he was on. Husain is a man who has clearly been on a journey.
It takes self awareness and maturity to realise that one has been peddling a poisonous and divisive ideology. But it requires courage to spurn it and to become a leading proponent of counter-extremism and de-radicalisation strategies in the face of sardonic attacks.
The late Christopher Hitchens. in Letters to a Young Contrarian. states that the Contrarian has “…a disposition to resistance… against arbitrary authority or witless mass opinion.” It is a trait that all the nominees exhibit and British public life is the richer for it.
The winner of the Contrarian Prize 2015 will be announced by the broadcaster, Jonathan Dimbleby, at a ceremony in Piccadilly on 18 June.