The winners of the Orwell Prize 2012, Britain’s most prestigious prize for political writing, were announced tonight, Wednesday 23rd May 2012, from 7pm at a ceremony at Church House, Westminster.
Toby Harnden’s Dead Men Risen (Quercus) was the unanimous and almost spontaneous choice of for of the Book Prize judges. The whole book was pulped by the MOD and the published edition contains redacted passages. Harnden’s is a story of male comradeship and the military tradition in action with the Welsh Guards in Afghanistan. It is forensically angry both with politicians who failed to equip the soldiers properly but more surprisingly with the military high command itself which over-promised to the politicians. In his authors note Harnden says this account, ‘will bear little resemblance to what you will have read in the newspapers heard politicians describe, or tried to glean from the upbeat progress reports of generals.’
This year’s Book Prize judges were Miranda Carter (writer and winner of the Orwell Prize 2002 for Anthony Blunt: His Lives), Sameer Rahim (assistant books editor, Daily Telegraph) and Baroness Helena Kennedy QC (previously shortlisted for Just Law).
The judges said: ‘It sometimes seems that we only care about the soldiers fighting in our names when they are killed. Once the platitudes are over we forget about them. Toby Harnden’s remarkable book takes us into the hearts and minds of the Welsh Guards in a way that is both compelling and visceral. It challenges every citizen of this country to examine exactly what we’re asking soldiers to do in Afghanistan. And rather than offering easy answers it lets the soldiers speak for themselves.’
This year’s Journalism Prize was awarded to Amelia Gentleman, for pieces published by The Guardian. This is the third consecutive year that Gentleman’s work has been shortlisted for the Journalism Prize. Her pieces consistently explore the most difficult places in our society: the Britain of benefit fraudsters, benefit dependents, the carers of our elderly, and institutions for young criminals. It is an unsparing gaze yet she is always delicate and respectful of the individuals within these – often malign – systems.
This year’s Journalism Prize judges were Brian Cathcart (journalist, winner of the Orwell Prize for Books 2000 forThe Case of Stephen Lawrence, professor of journalism at Kingston University) and Ian Hargreaves (former editor of The Independent, former director of BBC News and Current Affairs, professor of digital economy at Cardiff University).
The judges said: ‘An early reader of Down and Out in Paris and London praised George Orwell’s “true picture of conditions which most people ignore and ought not to be allowed to ignore”. The 2012 Orwell prize winner for journalism paints just such pictures for our times. Amelia Gentleman’s beautifully crafted examinations of hardship, welfare and justice for the Guardian bring us almost painfully close to subjects that are too often ignored, and they do so with cool, sharp powers of observation.’
This year’s Blog Prize judges chose Rangers Tax-Case, as the Blog Prize winner. Rangers Tax-Case says s/he are using their blog to ‘provide the details of what Rangers FC have done, why it was illegal, and what the implications are for one of the largest football clubs in Britain.’ The winning posts investigate the financial scandal surrounding Rangers Football Club.
This year’s Blog Prize judges were Suzanne Moore (journalist, The Guardian and the Mail on Sunday), Hopi Sen (blogger, previously shortlisted and longlisted for the Orwell Prize) and Sean Dodson (Guardian contributor and senior lecturer of journalism at Leeds Metropolitan University).
The judges said: ‘The 2012 Blog Prize showed that not only could blogs comment on current events, they could drive stories forward. Rangers Tax-Case takes what might be a dry topic – the tax affairs of a sports team – and shows how a striving for transitory success has severely distorted sporting, legal and ethical boundaries. Displaying focused contempt for those who evade difficult truths, and beating almost every Scottish football journalist to the real story – Rangers Tax-Case shows how expertise and incisive writing can expose the hypocrisies the powerful use to protect themselves from the consequences of their actions. It is a worthy winner which not only proves that independent blogging is as healthy as it ever was, but also offers a mirror in which our times are reflected.’
Christopher Hitchens Memorial
In the name of the Prize Peter Hitchens, himself an Orwell winner presented a Memorial to Carol Blue, Christopher’s widow. Christopher Hitchens, the writer and commentator once described as the heir to Orwell, died last year at the age of 62. His final book Arguably was longlisted for this year’s prize and his memoir Hitch-22 was shortlisted for the 2011 Orwell Prize for Books. His books, journalism and more recently blogs have shaped political writing and thinking for a generation.
Director of The Orwell Prize, Jean Seaton, said: ‘We are especially delighted to welcome Christopher Hitchens’ family and children to the Prize. Ian McEwan wrote of Hitchens that, “His unworldly fluency never deserted him, his commitment was passionate, and he never deserted his trade. He was the consummate writer.” Hitchens carried Orwell’s ambition “to make political writing into an art” forward and made it his own: he crafted a literate politics that helped form a world view.’
The Orwell Prize
The winners came from shortlists of 6 books, 6 journalists and 7 bloggers, which had been whittled down from longlists of 17 books, 12 journalists and 18 bloggers. This followed a record number of entries – 264 books, 140 journalists and 226 bloggers.
The Book Prize, Blog Prize and Journalism Prize receive £3000 prize money. All three winners as well as the family of Christopher Hitchens were presented with handmade wooden trophies made and designed by Goldsmiths, University of London students, Martin Kilner and Tai-li Lee.
Unlike most literary prizes, the Orwell Prize takes writing and argument to the public throughout the year. Our next event will be an Orwell vs. Kipling debate at Buxton Festival on 16th July. Chaired by Tony Wright (Former MP for Cannock Chase, Professor of Government and Public Policy at UCL, co-editor of Political Quarterly) the panel of speakers for Orwell are Paul Anderson (journalist, author, academic, editor of Orwell in Tribune: ‘As I Please” and other writings 1943-7′) and Stuart Evers (Author of ‘Ten Stories about Smoking’ and ‘If This is Home’). Speakers for Kipling are Jan Montefiore (Professor at University of Kent, author of ‘Kipling’ and editor of Kipling’s forthcoming ‘The Man Who Would be King and other stories’) and Charles Allen (historian, author of Orwell Prize-longlisted ‘Kipling Sahib’).
Notes to editors 1. The Orwell Prize is Britain’s most prestigious prize for political writing. Every year, prizes are awarded to the work – for the book, for the journalism and for the blog – which comes closest to George Orwell’s ambition ‘to make political writing into an art’. Each Prize is worth £3000.
2. The Prize was founded by the late Professor Sir Bernard Crick in its present form in 1993, awarding its first prizes in 1994. The Media Standards Trust, Political Quarterly and Orwell Trust are partners in running the Prize, through the Council of the Orwell Prize. Richard Blair (Orwell’s son), A. M. Heath. 3. For further information, please contact the Administrator, Katriona Lewis, at email@example.com, or on 0207 229 5722.