The Council Chamber in Paris where the European Section, CEMR
discussed climate change and Syria
It’s not often that I get emotional about being a politician or the work that I do but the five days that I spent in Paris at the end of last week and the start of this week certainly will make a deep impression on me for many years.
The most moving part of the visit was, without a doubt, the visit of 1,000 local government leaders from across the globe to mourn at the site of the two bars where so manty lives had been taken just three short weeks before. I joined the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo and her deputy Patrick Klugman and Mayors from Russia and America, Africa and Europe, in fact Mayors from more than 140 Countries, as we pondered on the reasons for the deaths of those young innocent people.
I was quite convinced last Friday that the UK had done the right thing earlier that week by agreeing to modestly expand the efforts we are making in Syria. The puerile nonsense that some people are making that those in favour of the Government motion were war mongers and attackers of innocent civilians was shown up by our commemoration. Innocent civilians died in Paris. Thousands of innocent Muslims and Christians are dying in horrible ways under the despotic rule of Daesh. Male Yazidi Christian teenagers are shot. Girls as young as 12 are being sold as sex slaves and if they don’t perform can be burnt to death.
War is never the answer to any problem. But sometimes limited force is appropriate to be used as part of an answer. As I stood with those men and women who dedicate their lives through public service to the needs of others I wanted to capture the raw emotion of those present. I wanted to turn the words and thoughts of those people in to actions.
It is not the job of councillors to ‘declare war’ but it is our job to do two things:
1. In the short term to help those who are fleeing from death and persecution. In our communities we can find homes for the innocent who only wish for themselves and their families what we wish for ours.
2. We can help in the redevelopment of those war affected areas after the fighting is over. Councillors know how to build communities and we must commit ourselves to create and lasting sense of community in Syria so that people will want to return home.
I well remember the Kosovan war in 1999. Liverpool, which had no Kosovan community, was asked at very short notice to take 1,000 Kosovan refugees. Five days after the request the first plane load of men, women and children flew into Manchester and were transported to our city. A week later there were more than 1,000 refugees. 9 months later there were none. They had gone home which is where they wanted to be provided that their lives were not at risk.
In about 2004 Liverpool was asked to prepare a contingency plan for the emergency arrival of 5,000 British passport holders from India and Pakistan when it looked as if there could be nuclear war in that region. Liverpool said yes and it was ready to act but fortunately things got rapidly better and the Countries pulled back from the abyss.
In fact we were not in Paris because of the terrorist attacks but because the vital COP 21 climate change talks were taking place in that city. Through the World Body, United Cities and Local Government, 1,000 Leaders of local government had come together in a number of ways to fight a threat which is, in the long term, even more deadly than Daesh – climate change.
We were doing three things:
1. Directly lobbying the Presidents and Prime Ministers and their staff about the real problems that exist round the World.
2. Ensuring that the role of local and regional authorities in combatting climate change was recognised by those decision makers;
3. Helping each other rise to the challenge by sharing good practice and innovative ideas.
In my view we were successful in all three objectives. There was a tremendous buoyancy about our meetings partly because we believed that for the first time all national governments were coming together because they realised the scale of the problem and partly because we are confident about our own role in dealing with many of the problems.
The communique has not yet been finally agreed but the last report back to us was that there were few issues where the principles were at stake and even many of the detailed actions that are required were slowly being agreed.
Having been at the last 2 COP talks it was also clear that the number of people who don’t believe that climate change is manmade and therefore preventable is in sharp decline. In fact they seem confined to the sort of long right-wing people who in mediaeval times would have said that the earth as flat!
As I looked round at the Leaders and Mayors and listened to the quality of their debate it seemed to me that we should try a new World Order. If we abolished the nation states that exist with the leadership that they have we could replace them with a federation of local leaders. These men and women who are sued to the pragmatic delivery of services could cut through the pretensions and pomp of national leaders and get on with doing what needs to be done.
Is this idea fanciful? Perhaps. But as the song goes, “If you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true!”