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The 50 people who matter today: 11-20

11-20 on our diverse list of individuals, couples and families changing the world, for good and ill.

11. Daniel Nocera

Gas man

In 2004, an epoch-making realisation dawned on the MIT chemist Daniel Nocera. He saw that the photosynthetic mechanisms that plants use to split water could be mimicked in such a way as to build a catalyst capable of making hydrogen fuel. In coming to understand how hydrogen ions could be harnessed to make hydrogen gas, Nocera had happened on a procedure that could conceivably transform the way energy is generated. It is no exaggeration to say that the prospects for genuinely renewable energy in coming decades depend on Nocera's ability to develop a catalyst that runs not on electricity, but on sunlight itself.

12. Angela Merkel

Wunderfrau

A champion of business, Angela Merkel is the first woman to lead Germany since it became a nation state in 1871. And as leader of Europe's largest economy and the world's biggest exporter, she carries huge weight on the international scene. Merkel stands as a bulwark to the Anglo-Saxon capitalist free market. She pushes for tighter international regulation on banks and led the crackdown on bank bonuses that recently cowed Gordon Brown. She is a solid supporter of the invasion of Afghanistan and her back-seat diplomacy has been crucial in brokering compromise between the UK and US. With a personal approval rating of over 60 per cent, Merkel is Europe's most popular leader and the justified proprietor of the Forbes title of "Most Powerful Woman in the World".

13. Bill and Melinda Gates

The softies

Microsoft brought the Gateses their fortune, but nowadays their global influence is felt through their eponymous foundation. It is the largest of its kind in the world, with an endowment worth some $35bn. The $800m that the couple give every year to health programmes tackling diseases such as polio and malaria is almost equal to the World Health Organisation's annual budget. Their philanthropy has attracted others to the cause - Warren Buffett gave roughly $30bn (nearly half his fortune) to the foundation in 2006. But it has also attracted criticism: some suggest that their donations undermine public health systems in developing countries.

14. Paul Kagame

Rwandan unifier

Over a period of 100 days beginning in April 1994, more than 900,000 people, mostly from the country's minority Tutsi group, were slaughtered in the small, landlocked Central-East African country of Rwanda in a state-driven assertion of Hutu supremacy that the rest of the world, turning away in fear and revulsion, did nothing to stop. The failure to intervene in Rwanda was an act of cowardice for which countries such as Britain (which has become the world's largest bilateral donor to Rwanda) and the US have been seeking to atone ever since. The killing was eventually stopped by the Rwandan Patriotic Front, a guerrilla movement that invaded from bases outside the country. Its leader was the Tutsi politician-soldier Paul Kagame. A brilliant military tactician who fought alongside Yoweri Museveni when he toppled Uganda's Tito Okello in a coup in 1986, Kagame was born in October 1957 and grew up in a refugee camp in Uganda. His parents fled from Rwanda during one of the country's periodic and systematic purges of the Tutsi minority. (The Tutsi diaspora is spread across Africa, with large groupings in Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.)

To many, the tall, thin, ascetic Kagame is a hero. As president, he has abolished the divisive system of identity cards, introduced by the Belgian colonisers, who first politicised ethnicity in Rwanda and under whose governance each citizen had to carry proof of his or her ethnicity: Hutu, Tutsi or Twa. His minority-Tutsi regime has stabilised and modernised Rwanda, rebuilding the country from the trauma of genocide and the ravages of civil war. His hugely efficient military - arguably the best in Africa - helped to topple the despised Mobutu regime in the country that was then called Zaire.

But to his disparagers, of whom there are increasing numbers, absolute power has corrupted Kagame. He is a hardline authoritarian and war criminal. Rwanda's repeated incursions over the border into eastern Congo have been driven less by a desire to root out Hutu militias than by greed and expansionist ambition. The Rwandan Tutsi elite, it is said, has become rich on the mineral wealth looted from the war-ravaged eastern Congo: cassiterite, gold, coltan.

The war in Congo - Africa's World War, as it is called - has resulted in the death of as many as 5.5 million people; millions, too, have been displaced, and hundreds of thousands of women have been raped. At present it seems to be a war without end, under-reported, misunderstood and shamefully too often ignored by western powers.

Does Kagame have the power to bring peace to eastern Congo? It seems absurd that a country as small as Rwanda could control the fortunes of one as vast as the DRC. But so pervasive is Kagame's influence in the Great Lakes region, so disciplined is the Rwandan military, so determined is the ethnic Tutsi elite (rather like the Jews of Israel) never again to be victims of genocide, and so supportive is the anglophone world of Kagame (to the irritation of the French, who supported the Hutu majority) that this complex and determined politician has, more than any other leader in the region, the authority and opportunity to broker peace in what is one of the most tragic nations on earth.
Jason Cowley

15. David Einhorn

High roller

David Einhorn has had a profound effect on Wall Street. As founder of the hedge fund Greenlight Capital, he was one of the first to see gaps in Lehman Brothers' first-quarter earnings in May 2008. Short-selling Lehman shares, he realised a hefty profit. Last year, he publicly denounced Lehman's shortfall before the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Reserve, or even Lehman's investors did. His gambling prowess was better known on Vegas poker circuits until 2002, when he exposed fraudulent records in the mid-cap financial company Allied Capital. Critics claim he caused a crisis of confidence in the economy, but he has been hugely important in ushering an era of accountability on to Wall Street.

16. Harvey Levin

Gossip guy

TMZ.com, Harvey Levin's website (the acro­nym stands for the "thirty-mile zone" around Hollywood), feeds on celebrity activity of the lowest order: Twitter fights, Starbucks encounters, stylist errors. But it has also scooped some of the biggest celebrity stories since it began in 2005 - this year's trophy was the death of Michael Jackson, and the site's pictures of Britney Spears's meltdown were seen around the globe. In doing so, it has contributed to the increasing redundancy of slow print media. Levin, a lawyer by training, is now a media star in his own right, but it's his network of moles around LA (in the hospital, some said, when Jackson died) that makes the site the most influential source of gossip in the world.

17. Grand Ayatollah Yousuf Sanei

Clerical errant

A rare liberal voice from within Iran's theocratic Establishment, Grand Ayatollah Yousuf Sanei is not afraid of going against the grain: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad plans to sue the senior reformist cleric for siding with pro-democracy protesters during June's contested elections. Sanei was already known, and well respected, for his progressive fatwas (condemning suicide bombing and nuclear weapons, and promoting women's rights), and holds one of the most senior clerical positions in Shia Islam. In a country so hostile to the west, a real chance of modernisation could only come from someone with his insider status.

18. Francis Collins

Gene genius

For 15 years, as the head of the Human Genome Project, Francis Collins led the quest to unravel the human genome. A born-again Christian, he created the BioLogos Foundation to promote harmony between science and faith. In May, he resigned to explore other avenues; in July, Barack Obama nominated him as director of the National Institutes of Health.

19. Mo Ibrahim

Networker

He made his name and fortune from mobile phones, but Sudanese-born Mo Ibrahim has joined the ranks of global figureheads through his eponymous foundation. When Ibrahim set up his mobile phone company Celtel in 1998, there were two million phones in Africa. Seven years later, there were 100 million, opening up unprecedented business and communication. His foundation promotes good governance in Africa, awarding the largest financial prize in the world ($5m plus $200,000 a year for life) to an African leader every year.

20. Robert Iger

Cartoon hero

As the Walt Disney Company's CEO, Robert Iger is the head of the world's largest media conglomerate. Through entertainment phenomena such as Hannah Montana, he controls the deepest desires of the next generation; he also directs the TV news giant ABC and sports channel ESPN. In 2006, he acquired the digital animation studios Pixar, cemented a relationship with Apple's Steve Jobs and signed a $6bn merger with Marvel comics, adding more than 2,000 characters to Disney's repertoire.

This article first appeared in the 28 September 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The 50 people who matter

Ralph Steadman for the New Statesman.
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Tim Farron: Theresa May is "the prisoner of the Ukip wing of her party"

The Liberal Democrat leader on his faith, Blairism and his plan to replace Labour as the opposition. 

This is Tim Farron’s seventh general election. His first was in 1992, when his Tory opponent was a 36-year-old called Ther­esa May. He was just 21 and they were both unsuccessful candidates in the Labour fortress of North-West Durham. He recalls talking “to a bunch of ex-miners who weren’t best pleased to see either of us, some kid Liberal and some Tory”. Now he sees his former and current opponent as “the prisoner of the Ukip wing of her party . . . I think it has rendered Ukip almost pointless – she is Ukip now.”

May was elected to parliament in 1997, but it took Farron until 2005 to join her. She leads the dominant Conservatives while he heads a party of only nine Liberal Democrat MPs. Still, their reversal of fortunes gives him hope. “After the 1992 election, every­one said there’s no way for a non-Tory government, and it turned out there was. So let’s not assume it’s a given there’s a Tory government [for ever].”

In April, I accompanied Farron to Manchester Gorton, in the lead-up to a by-election that was cancelled by May’s decision to call a snap election on 8 June. Still, the 46-year-old’s party has been in campaign mode for months; Lib Dems spoke of using last December’s Richmond Park by-election to test their messaging. It clearly had an effect: the incumbent Conservative, Zac Goldsmith, lost to their candidate, Sarah Olney.

Brexit, to which the Liberal Democrats are vehemently opposed, will be a dominant theme of the election. Their party membership has just exceeded 100,000, close to an all-time high, and they have enjoyed much success in council by-elections, with more to come in the local elections of 4 May.

However, any feel-good factor swiftly evaporated when Farron appeared on Channel 4 News on 18 April. He was asked by the co-presenter Cathy Newman whether or not he believes that homosexuality is a sin, a question that he answered obliquely in 2015 by saying that Christianity started with acknowledging that “we’re all sinners”.

This time, he told Newman, he was “not in the position to make theological announcements over the next six weeks . . . as a Liberal, I’m passionate about equality”.

The Channel 4 interview divided opinion. One Liberal politician told me that Farron’s stance was “completely intolerable”. Stephen Pollard, the influential editor of the Jewish Chronicle, described it as
“a very liberal position: he holds certain personal views but does not wish to legislate around them”. Jennie Rigg, the acting chair of LGBT+ Liberal Democrats, said it was “as plain as the nose on my face that Tim Farron is no homophobe”.

Farron declined the chance to clarify his views with us in a follow-up phone call, but told the BBC on 25 April: “I don’t believe that gay sex is a sin,” adding, “On reflection, it makes sense to actually answer this direct question since it’s become an issue.”

For his critics, Farron’s faith and politics are intertwined. He sees it differently, as he told Christian Today in 2015: “. . . the danger is sometimes that as a Christian in politics you think your job is to impose your morality on other people. It absolutely isn’t.”

Tim Farron joined the then Liberal Party at the age of 16 but didn’t become a Christian until he was 18. Between completing his A-levels in Lancashire and going to Newcastle University to read politics, he read the apologetics, a body of Christian writing that provides reasoned arguments for the gospel story. “I came to the conclusion that it was true,” he told me. “It wasn’t just a feel-good story.”

In speeches, Farron now takes on the mannerisms of a preacher, but he had a largely non-religious upbringing in Preston, Lancashire. “I don’t think I’d been to church once other than Christmas or the odd wedding,” he says. “I went once with my dad when I was 11, for all the good that did me.”

When we meet, it is Theresa May’s religion that is in the spotlight. She has condemned the National Trust for scrubbing the word “Easter” from its Easter egg hunt, a row it later emerged had been largely invented by the right-wing press in response to a press release from a religious-themed chocolate company.

“It’s worth observing there’s no mention of chocolate or bunny rabbits in the Bible,” Farron reminds me. “When people get cross about, in inverted commas, ‘us losing our Christian heritage’ they mean things which are safe and comfortable and nostalgic.” He pauses. “But the Christian message at Easter is shocking, actually, and very radical.”

British politics is tolerant of atheists (such as Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg) alongside those who, like David Cameron, are culturally Christian but whose faith is “a bit like the reception for Magic FM in the Chilterns: it sort of comes and goes”. But the reaction to Farron’s equivocation on homosexuality prompted many to wonder if a politician who talks openly about his faith is now seen as alarming. Nebulous wishes of peace and love at Christmas, yes; sincere discussions of the literal truth of the Resurrection? Hmm.

Tim Farron’s beliefs matter because he has a mission: to replace not only Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the opposition but Theresa May in Downing Street. Over lassis at the MyLahore curry house in Manchester, he tells me that Britain is facing two calamities. “One is Brexit, indeed hard Brexit . . . and the other is a Tory government for 25 years. We have to present a genuine, progressive alternative that can not only replace Labour as an opposition, it can replace the Tories as a government.” This is ambitious talk for a party with nine MPs. “I understand the ridicule that will be thrown at me for saying those things: but if you don’t want to run the country, why are you in politics?” He pauses. “That’s a question I would ask most people leading the Labour Party at present.”

What does he think of May, his one-time opponent in North-West Durham? “She strikes me as being very professional, very straightforward, somebody who is very conservative in every sense of the word, in her thought processes, her politics, in her style.” He recalls her 2002 conference speech in which she warned Tory activists: “Our base is too narrow and so, occasionally, are our sympathies. You know what some people call us: the nasty party.”

“In many ways, she was the trailblazer for Cameron in being a softer-focused Tory,” he says. “It now looks like she’s been trapped by the very people she was berating as the nasty party all those years ago. I like to think that isn’t really her. But that means she isn’t really in control of the Conservative Party.”

Voters, however, seem to disagree. In recent polls, support for the Conservatives has hovered between 40 and 50 per cent. Isn’t a progressive alliance the only way to stop her: Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, the SNP and Plaid Cymru all working together to beat the Tories?

“Let’s be really blunt,” he says. “Had Jeremy Corbyn stood down for us in Richmond Park [where Labour stood Christian Wolmar], we would not have won. I could have written Zac Goldsmith’s leaflets for you: Corbyn-backed Liberal Democrats.

“I’m a pluralist,” he adds. “But any progressive alliance has got to be at least equal to the sum of its parts. At the moment, it would be less than the sum of its parts. The only way the Tories are losing their majority is us gaining seats in Hazel Grove –” he ticks them off with his fingers, “– in Cheadle, in the West Country and west London. There’s no chance of us gaining those seats if we have a kind of arrangement with the current Labour Party in its current form.”

What about the SNP? “Most sensible people would look at that SNP manifesto and agree with 99 per cent of it,” Farron says. “But it’s that one thing: they want to wreck the country! How can you do a deal with people who want to wreck the country?”

There’s no other alternative, he says. Someone needs to step up and offer “something that can appeal to progressive younger voters, pro-Europeans and, you know, moderate-thinking Middle England”. He wants to champion a market economy, strong public services, action on climate change, internationalism and free trade.

That sounds like Blairism. “I’m a liberal, and I don’t think Blair was a liberal,” he replies. “But I admire Blair because he was somebody who was able to win elections . . . Iraq aside, my criticisms of Blair are what he didn’t do, rather than what he did do.”

Turning around the Tory tide – let alone with just nine MPs, and from third place – is one hell of a job. But Farron takes heart from the Liberal Party in Canada, where Justin Trudeau did just that. “I’m not Trudeau,” he concedes, “He was better-looking, and his dad was prime minister.”

There is a reason for his optimism. “I use the analogy of being in a maze,” he says, “You can’t see a way out of it, for a progressive party to form a majority against the Tories. But in every maze, there is a way out. We just haven’t found it yet.” 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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