Sunday, 17 September 2017

Jo Swinson's speech to the federal AGM 2017

I have recorded in various places (including on this blog) that the erection of the Berlin Wall was for many of us more frightening than the Cuban missile stand-off a few years later. It was heartening that deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, Jo Swinson, should have hung her speech to conference this year on the demolition of the Wall. She is too young to have experienced the same sense of relief and joy shared by those of us who have lived with the Wall for more than twenty years, but it is a mark of the woman that she recognised that it was an iconic and momentous event.

I think it’s fair to say that as a child, apart from one Christmas watching the animated film “When the Wind Blows”, I hadn’t given much thought to nuclear war. But the cloud had hung threateningly over the world, at times perilously close to disaster on an unimaginable scale. Thanks to the diplomacy, courage and political leadership which led to the end of the Cold War, we have enjoyed three decades with much reduced levels of nuclear threat

But now the picture darkens for all of us. Jo listed North Korea, Turkey, Venezuela and Myanmar as places where liberal values and human rights are in full retreat. In the case of North Korea there is also a realistic threat to the well-being of people outside her borders. Climate change is real, leading to the increase in number and intensity of hurricanes and typhoons. The current leader of the free world is in denial not only of the vast majority of scientific belief that human activity is a major contributor to global warming, but even that global warming itself is "fake news".

Closer to home, intolerance of religious faith and of difference generally are on the rise. Anti-Semitism has become respectable again, something I believed the revelations post-World War Two had put an end to.

Jo ended with one gem of hope:

In the Netherlands and in France this year the populists were defeated. In Canada we cheered Trudeau’s Liberal victory.

Creating the bold vision we need is bigger than any single political party. Indeed it’s bigger than party politics itself. We need to reach out and collaborate across society, with thinkers, activists, the young and the old, faith groups, trade unions, entrepreneurs – and with all of you who want to change the world.

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