It's Time to Waken Our Sense of Duty; Soon to Celebrate His 30th Year in Liverpool and National Politics, Lord Alton's Greatest Legacy May Be Rekindling Britain's Pride in Citizenship. Peter Elson Reports

Daily Post (Liverpool, England), March 11, 2002 | Go to article overview

It's Time to Waken Our Sense of Duty; Soon to Celebrate His 30th Year in Liverpool and National Politics, Lord Alton's Greatest Legacy May Be Rekindling Britain's Pride in Citizenship. Peter Elson Reports


Byline: Peter Elson

WHAT do the Dalai Lama, ex-President Gorbachev and Ken Dodd all have in common? No, they are not all honorary members of Huyton's Eagle & Child Croquet and Country Club, but they have all agreed to lecture on citizenship in Liverpool.

What started out as a one-off season of public talks entitled the Roscoe Lectures, to complement Britain's only young person's Citizenship Award scheme, is now into its fifth year.

The 28 speakers so far have attracted audiences of around 800 people (Sir Patrick Moore achieved 1,300) who come from all over North Wales and North West England.

Speakers have included several home secretaries, the Irish president, the head of NATO and the Chief Rabbi.

Nobel Prize-winning scientist Prof Sir Joseph Rotblat will deliver the next lecture on March 27.

It's all a brainchild of Lord Alton, the former Liverpool Edge Hill MP David Alton. His idea was simple enough: to stimulate civilized debate and promote good citizenship, especially among the young.

Lord Alton, who will be celebrating 30 years in Liverpool politics this May as a city councillor (while a student), MP and now member of the House of Lords, appears as surprised as anyone at the impact of the Citizenship Award scheme and lectures.

The latter are so successful that he has been asked to transfer them to London. Showbusiness apart, not much is exported from Liverpool to London these days, but the offer was politely refused. Liverpool he believes should offer high quality public events that its citizens can be proud of.

"Many young people have been told that the only way to achieve things is by manning the barricades.

They have forgotten how to debate, " says Lord Alton.

"We have to cultivate again the lost deep sense of civic duty. This means placing an emphasis on responsibilities and obligations, rather than the constant demands for rights and entitlements without an equivalent commitment to personal responsibility.

"When I stood down from House of Commons in 1997, the opportunity arose for me to create the Foundation of Citizenship for Liverpool John Moores University and I was given a free hand."

His special Citizenship Award scheme for Merseyside's 600 primary and secondary schools will be soon be extended to Wigan and Warrington. It is keenly sponsored by local companies to promote personal endeavour and good citizenship among young people.

In tandem with this he is trying to create a dialogue between the university and the city about how to be an active citizen. The Citizenship Awards are presented at the public lecture series to create maximum publicity.

He says: "It's cliche that people are Merseyside's best commodity. We're trying to draw out their best impulses. Curiously, we place so much emphasis on academic or sporting achievements, but don't officially recognise the extraordinary level of good our young people do for others."

Paradoxically, it was the often hostile state of Liverpool political life that forged Alton's determination to put citizenship back on the agenda.

He says: "The 1980s and 90s was a period when Liverpool was isolated politically and it was difficult to conduct normal civic life here.

"Politics was often conducted in an acrimonious way with a lot of negativity that can be very destructive.

People are no longer brought up to listen to other points of view or to articulate their arguments in a civilised way.

"The public lecture series is where they could possibly hear diametrically opposed views to their own, in a way that would be normalising civic life.

"Too often the local authority is used as a battering ram against central government. Or people denounce anyone who doesn't agree with them as traitors. Everything was seen in terms of class battles and becoming class warriors.

"I don't think that kind of politics was going anywhere and it was very destructive to this community. …

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