Thursday, July 10, 2008

That speech

Yesterday I went up to East Riding with the irrepressible Bob Marshall Andrews and Shami Chakrabarti to take part in a debate about liberty on the eve of the by-election hosted by David Davis. This is the speech I made. Minus the Leeds United opening gag.

UPDATE: Now on The Guardian's Comment is Free

Three years ago I was on the way to work when a 19 year old British man detonated a suicide bomb in the carriage I was travelling in, killing 26 innocent people and wounding over a hundred more. So I understand first-hand how terrifying terrorism is. But I now know that the real aim of the terrorists is not to kill hundreds but to terrify millions. To terrify us so much that we forget who we are and what we stand for and become like frightened children begging only to be kept safe. To use our own nightmares against us and to amplify them through the media and news cycle's endless feedback loop of fear. But as any parent knows, it is not always possible to keep those you love safe, and a person who is always safe is a person who never knows freedom - and who has no life.

Tony Blair once said that the freedom not be to be blown up on the way to work was the most important freedom - and that sounds temptingly true, until you unpack it. For no government can keep us safe, even if they watch over us and film us and listen to us and check our emails and internet use and hold our most intimate data and fill hundreds of prison cells with people who are merely suspected of - but not charged with - any crime at all.

When terrorists attack us, they try to divide us. They want a panicked reaction and a divisive, draconian response. It plays into their propaganda machine and by deeming them our terrible enemies against whom we must wage all-out endless, limitless war, we dignify and glorify their hateful - and hopeless - cause.

But what I learned on 7 July was that we are each other's best security. We are the guardians of each other's liberties and lives. I learned this when the bomb exploded and on each carriage of the train, trapped underground, despite the terrifying darkness and choking dust and screaming, men and women still took each other's hands and comforted and calmed each other, shared water, passed tissues, whilst other men and women ran into dark tunnels, into unknown danger, to rescue the injured. Further horror and injury was only prevented by people's calm and altruistic response. And in the darkness, you could not know if the person who reached to touch your hand was male or female, or what race or religion or sexuality they were. Just a stranger in the dark on whom your own sanity and survival depended.

I have held on to that lesson ever since.

I expect terrorists to attack our way of life and to try to use fear to divide us and change our behaviour. I do not expect our government to do the same, nor do I expect us to collude in giving up our ancient liberties and thus to do the terrorists' work for them.

Make no mistake, this is not about being soft on terrorism. I have no empathy for terrorists and I will cheer loud and long when one is convicted by a jury of his peers of plotting murder and mayhem and is locked up for a very long time indeed. But it is simply not right that we should support laws where people merely suspected of terrorism should be locked up for 42 days and nights without being charged with any crime at all. More than half those arrested for terrorism so far have been found to be entirely innocent, and terrorism laws have been used to harass and harry ordinary people: poets and protesters, chefs and pensioners, students and parents and priests. Ordinary people like you or me.

The Director of Public Prosecutions, the ex-Director General of M15, in office during 7/7, many senior police and the ex Attorney General, and numerous others whose job it has been to protect us, and prosecute those who mean us harm say 42 days is not needed nor is it workable, and I support them. How can I not?

Sometimes an issue is so important that it transcends politics and party lines. We have a choice: whether we focus on our fears or our freedoms. To defy the terrorists by standing together, strong in what we know ourselves to be, looking at what unites us. Not to tolerate political posturing and base attempts to cajole and frighten us. I pray that we have the courage to stand up for the freedoms our enemies want to destroy, and older generations died to protect; whatever our party politics, whatever our background. To say that our liberty is our security and our freedoms the key to unlock our fears, and so let us breathe and live and love and work as we want to, as humans, as is our right. Our birthright, our human right.

I am not a Tory, but I am passionate about the debate that is playing out in David Davis' constituency and all over the UK. They say if you don't stand for something, you will fall for anything, and I am glad to stand shoulder to shoulder with people from all across the political spectrum, knowing that freedom is something worth standing for, worth fighting for, worth dying for. I stand today asking for freedom. I ask you to stand up, and stand for it too.

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Blogger Graham the Funky Aardvark said...

Stunning! Great... and well said

July 10, 2008 11:10 pm  
Blogger Deborah said...

wow Rachel - this is awesome.

July 11, 2008 7:51 am  
Blogger Vanessa said...

Very powerful - well done and seconded.

July 11, 2008 9:22 am  
Blogger zoe said...

Excellent speech - I wish I'd been there.

July 11, 2008 11:00 am  
Blogger Sage said...

Very well said, and hits home too.. just wish that politicians would get the message.

July 11, 2008 12:07 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hear, hear.

July 11, 2008 1:48 pm  
Anonymous HughofBardfield said...

I am sad at this.

I don't agree with 42 days either, but supporting Davis's cheap and cynical political stunt doesn't help anyone. This is not about principles IMHO, but about attempting to position the Tories on the moral high ground. With Labour in disarray the Tory spin doctors are winning.

It won't matter to you, but I won't be visiting your blog again.

July 11, 2008 1:58 pm  
Anonymous douglas clark said...


That is a stunningly good speech. It is you, not any brand of politician, that occupies the moral high ground.

July 11, 2008 4:07 pm  
Blogger Uncle Petie said...

@ hughofbardfield

Yes, obviously in some sense this is about positioning the Tories on the moral high ground, but that's very much the point. Before Davis did this, no-one thought there was a moral high ground worth taking.

The whole reason Brown was instituting 42 days seemed, to me at least, to be a product of the fact that the conventional wisdom ran the other way: a canny politician wins elections and gets good press by trying to dismantle whatever civil liberties they can lay their hands on.

The fact that people can now talk about cynical political stunts defending civil liberties is something to celebrate.

Rachel, you fought the good fight, and I'll be reading your blog more.

July 11, 2008 4:14 pm  
Blogger Rachel said...

I am sorry you are sad Hugh.

We did have a big debate about whether I should go up and campaign on the blog and the majority were in favour. I think it was the right thing to do, for the sake of civil liberties.

Everyone else, thank you for the lovely comments.

July 11, 2008 5:27 pm  
Blogger Spartan said...

The issue of freedom should transcend Party affiliations and am happy to say to that to some people's merit it did.

Who would have ever thought that we'd see the likes of Tony Benn, Bob Geldof, Bob Marshall, David Davis all on the same 'stage'?

Your speech is quite profound in it's content and message and l wish our citizens would take the time to actually read such things. Too often they form opinions on so little information ... whether that info is true or not is another matter they should contemplate.

The wolves are almost at the door but only few seem to notice.

Keep up the good work Rachel ... l'll be back! :-)

Hugh ... is it possible for you to be any sadder? Somehow l doubt it.

July 11, 2008 8:34 pm  
Blogger Jonathan said...

Excellent speech Rachel.

Rooseveltian in its timely reminder to us all, on either side of the pond, that all we have to fear is fear itself...

..though in the case of our Governments we might add: also those who wish to make us more frightened than is warranted.

That this call for a defence of our centuries old freedom from arbitrary Governmental arrest should be voiced by someone who was a victim of the very terrorist attacks that are supposed to justify this creeping insolence, makes it resonate all the louder and more effectively.

There is a word for people who cower in the face of people who seek to kill you. Yes, that's right, I'm thinking: Coward.

Not a word I would have thought people would want to attarct as a description of themselves.

Keep up the great work.

July 11, 2008 9:43 pm  
Blogger anticant said...

Great speech, Rachel. It's East Riding, btw.

Glad you thrashed the Klown Kelvin. Maybe he enjoyed it, most likely being a closet Max Mosley type - thoroughly disagreeable man with a deeply unpleasant boss!

July 12, 2008 5:55 pm  
Blogger Rachel said...

Thanks anticant - changed!

And thanks for the comments y'all.

We will keep on trucking and shouting back...

July 12, 2008 7:09 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I thought that you might have mentioned the 'secret inquests'/'special coroners' proposals within the CT Bill, rather than the '42 days'.

Strange that you didn't use the David Davis platform to make some noises about these measures (you also said that you would do a blog piece on the subject as well.......)

July 15, 2008 12:39 pm  
Blogger Adam said...

The last comment touches on something of freat importance. It is interesting but in all the discussion about 42 days in the media (which is undoubtedly important), there is not a peep on the other aspects of the Terrorism Bill (coroners reforms etc).

It would truly cynical to think that the Gov are pushing through 42 days (which is but a single clause) to divert attention, and I don't think they are that competant. But this stuff will probably sail through the Lords while everyone is still fretting about 42 days.

A good speech Rachel. Its important for the wider cause that 'ordinary' people like yourself with a platform/noterity speak up. I admire your bravery in what must be a difficult time.

July 15, 2008 3:34 pm  

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