A very, very special memorial service at the war memorial chapel at Hornsey Central Hospital (which will be preserved whatever happens on that site)! I think this is the first time the memorial has been opened for years for the memorial ceremony and, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month – with so many of the names of those who fell there – it was truly moving.
I talked to one of the veterans who had served in the Navy. It was just extraordinary to think of what this one man saw and witnessed. I won’t reveal what he said about sailor’s reputations in regard to each port of call – still cheeky at 80-odd! But alongside the humour, he also told me that he and one other colleague were the only survivors out of eight men attacked in a gun turret. It is impossible to understand what that generation saw and survived. And every time I write the message to go on the wreath I lay – and I thank those who died that we might live – I am moved to tears.
Afterwards I was chatting to lots of the people who had come – and the last chap to nab me was very agitated. Basically he wanted to express his anger – as a serving member of the RAF – as regards how he didn’t think it was fair for lads to fight for their country but when they were in need of state support (housing) they couldn’t get anywhere because immigrants got all the houses. And did I think he was racist, and political correctness was ignoring blokes like him, and he would have to vote for the BNP – there was no alternative.
Now whilst I said to him that I didn’t think we were likely to see eye to eye – I don’t think it is racist to bring this sort of grievance to light. The BNP made huge inroads in the east of London because Labour ignored the ‘already heres’. I don’t think it is just white working class – which was his argument. I think it is a real battle between the entitlement people who have worked and paid into the system for years feel they should have against the needs of the newly arrived.
I wrote about this clash of the already heres versus newcomers. I wrote extensively on in my chapter in Britain after Blair because I think there is a real and unaddressed issue here. And that issue, above and beyond this hopeless unfit for purpose Home Office, is about the allocation of a limited pot of public resource.
So – this young man was very, very angry with a country that he fights for but which he believes no longer cares or listens to people like him. I didn’t agree with his more prejudiced remarks – but I do agree that these are the issues we need to resolve if we are to avoid the BNP finding any favour for its hideous bile. Breeding grounds for discontent – particularly when they have some validity – are easily swung to extreme views.
Anyway – at that point I had to go on somewhere else and so made my excuses, though as I left the young chap then said I was quite good looking for an MP – and would I like to go out for a drink! For me though it was off to the Lib Dem Council Group’s Away Day (they didn’t get very far as the venue is next door my constituency office in High Street Hornsey). I took a break out session on crime and policing and then giving a general talk on how to take the issues that matter to their ward constituents and turn them into action.