On leaving 10 Downing Street after an emergency summit called by then PM Tony Blair in the wake of the horrific 7/7 attacks, I recall encountering a huge media scrum gathered outside. My core message was that we had now been forced to confront our naivety and that words could indeed lead to deeds so heinous that hitherto they were unimaginable.
Of course, that was over 14 years ago and I was referring to unhinged ideologues who spouted extremist rhetoric but were regarded as ‘harmless’ – after all which rational person could take them seriously …….?
Though we have learnt much since then, today sadly it appears that some in public life happily skirt on the fringes of acceptable discourse naively or even wishfully believing that their words would not really have any harmful impact on our society.
Some in leadership positions clearly see fit to ignore the huge responsibility that goes with their privileged positions and are willing to utter words which corrode the relative cohesion in our society. To these individuals, of all persuasions and backgrounds, we have to send out a strong unequivocal message, that helping create an eco-system for hate and fear can never be a price worth paying for expediency and short-term gain because this is the real threat to our way of life.
As Chair of Tell Mama I know, as do our partners in the Jewish Community Security Trust, a tragic truth that hate crime seems to be on the rise year-on-year. And we all agree that the very least we should surely expect of those in public life is that they do nothing that contributes to making the situation more acute. Indeed, in a sane world we would expect them all to contribute to the defeat of hate but alas sanity appears in scant short supply in some quarters.
But it’s far from all doom and gloom. There are many in public and civic life who are now taking their responsibility very seriously, great role models who are becoming great activists. At last year’s event I talked of the challenge of getting out of our ‘comfort zones’ and I sincerely believe more people today than ever before have risen to that challenge – they are active, energised, engaged, aware and willing to create positive change. Indeed we will be recognising many today with our awards.
The principles of the challenges don’t change much – yes there’s a new global wave of populism, there’s new media and technology communications but none of that should be daunting. The fundamentals don’t change – as Burke reminds us that for evil to prevail all that is required is that good people do nothing.
So what do we need? Well we need a global consensus amongst governments that technology giants must continue to be scrutinised and must take their responsibilities seriously or pay the ultimate price.
We need to get our school curriculum fit to develop young people who are well rounded and equipped to face the challenges of the diverse society in which they live today and tomorrow.
We need our religious and non-religious institutions to mainstream and re-emphasise the notion of us all being equal citizens with equal rights and responsibilities and hurt to one is hurt to all.
We need to work hard to create greater mixing and greater understanding to allow sustainable cohesion in our community.
When we first came up with the concept of these anti-hate awards, we naturally aimed to showcase best practice, superb role models and outstanding courage and in that respect, they have proven an overwhelming success.
However, our ambitions did not end there. In truth we had another less overt agenda – we believed the Awards could become a unique platform, bringing together diverse groups and individuals under a common cause. I am delighted that today we have created an environment where increasingly we understand that the commonality we share is profound and the big differences that we perceived are unquestionably benign.
Thank you to all of you for sparing the time to be with us this evening and importantly, please stand proud because collectively we truly are part of the solution.