No time for ‘likes’ when you’re fighting for a cause
Christine Buckley was the great whistleblower of our time
‘Christine Buckley was an implacable fighter, not because she wanted to be, but because she was forced to be. Once you become a whistleblower or an inconvenient truthteller, once you utter a profound truth and they isolate you and call you a liar, what else do you do?’ Photograph: Arthur Carron/Collins
A golden autumn morning in south Dublin. Puffing a cigarette with one hand, Christine Buckley used the other to slip an apple into the microwave to produce an impressively speedy puree – “for a healthy breakfast”. It was funny at the time. As ever, she was sharp, irreverent, scathing and never in danger
of leaving an awkward silence. But beside us on the table lay a thick file containing a complex story – the purpose of the meeting.
Christine never lost sight of her mission. That day, it was about the alleged exploitation of vulnerable people who had received redress payments.
She was an implacable fighter, not because she wanted to be – who chooses a life like that? – but because she was forced to be. Once you become a whistleblower or an inconvenient truthteller, once you utter a profound truth and they isolate you and call you a liar, what else do you do?
“She protested during her time in Goldenbridge,” said Louis Lentin, the courageous director of the ground-breaking Dear Daughter . “Once she made up her mind actually, she just kept on protesting.”
In fact, Christine Buckley was the great whistleblower of our time.
We don’t say it out loud too often but fighters can be draining, demanding and a bit scary. They ring at odd hours, hardly pausing to say hello before hurtling into a monologue. They talk – oh lord, how they talk – and barely notice when the listener fearfully points out that the kids are setting fire to the dog.
Glory and burden
Some might even be mistaken for bitter, self-righteous bores. Some people who shift a society’s axis are like that. That singlemindedness, that blocking of peripheral vision, that leading with the chin, is both their glory and their burden. As fully fledged members of the Awkward Squad, they must override the primal wiring that governs nearly all of us (with the possible exception of Alan Shatter): the need to be liked.
It is no accident that social media is driven by “likes” and retweets and “favourites” and followers. Followers can even be bought (3,000 for $3.50) by the truly desperate. Even to be seen to be liked is a visceral need. So how must it feel to hear your actions described as “disgusting” in the national parliament by the bossman who holds all the cards? What must it have felt like for Christine to be called a liar, repeatedly, by the people she grew up with, the nearest thing to family?
She died on the same day as Bob Crow, the shouty, unreconstructed head of the UK’s rail, marine and transport union, the geezer with the Millwall FC scarf who could and did bring London to its knees. He seemed a perfect fit for Millwall, with their unofficial motto: “Nobody likes us, we don’t care.” Yet when asked what it was like to be the most hated man in London, he replied: “Well . . . if anybody says it is nice to be known as hated, they’re lying.”
He presented an open goal to his opponents by living in a council house while taking a six-figure salary and his holidays in Brazil. But why wouldn’t he? If a healthy trade union movement is considered essential to a successful democracy – something we might have overlooked in recent years – then Bob Crow was as vital as any entrepreneur. Against the tide, he hugely increased his union membership and got most members an annual wage rise in deep recession. As Ireland was embarking on its tragic little masterclass in capitalism – They Socialise Their Debts and Capitalise Their Profits: Discuss – and Willie Walsh was asking BA workers to work a month for nothing, Crow left no doubt about how he would respond to such a request: “I’d tell them to f**k off. Over the last two years, BA made around £900 million one year and £500 million the other. It’s an absolute scandal”.
Five years on, the great economic god of austerity has cut a swathe through the rights and expectations of millions of ordinary, decent lives and ceded absolute power to the swaggering little managers who prayed for just this moment. And it’s at this moment that Alan Greenspan, the former US Federal Reserve chairman, chooses to argue the need for an economics model that describes “the world as it really is” and suggests that banks that are too big to fail are too big. Imagine that.
Lucky the union that had the most hated man in London as its bulwark in these times. The night before he died, Bob Crow was on BBC Radio 4, arguing the case for trade unions.
Looking back to that golden autumn morning in south Dublin, I realise Christine Buckley must have been ill then. But she made the coffee, served up the apple, opened the file and for yet another day, put that mighty heart, intelligence and passion to the service of others.
John Waters is on leave