I was shocked and saddened to wake up on Tuesday morning to the news of the terrible events in Manchester. Terrorism of all forms is depraved and beyond any justification, but the deliberate targeting of children and young people makes this attack even more perverse.
My thoughts and prayers remain with the victims and their families, and also with our brave police, military and security personnel who continue to protect us during this difficult and uncertain time.
When a terror attack happens here in the UK we all feel some form of connection to the victims and to their loved ones. For some it will be thoughts of concerts and events we ourselves have attended, which could quite easily have been the one targeted. For others we will look at our own children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces and despair for the brokenness of those who today mourn such tragic loss. Having spent many years working in the live entertainment industry I can’t help but think of friends and colleagues who regularly work on events similar to Monday’s concert, in venues across the country, including the Manchester Arena.
For too many there will be a more direct connection. There are no words which can do justice to the loss of those whose family or friends were there, perhaps even injured or tragically killed.
Over the past two days all the major political parties have joined together in suspending general election campaigning. There are those who have criticised this move, arguing that by doing so we are letting the terrorists win. I respectfully disagree. Political campaigning is, despite the best efforts of candidates everywhere, an inherently competitive and too often divisive activity. It is a battle between alternative policies and ideologies as we seek to convince voters to choose one vision for our country over another. In the wake of such atrocities it is right that we set aside those differences, giving the country time to come together and find unity in our national grief.
If the response of Manchester’s many ordinary heroes on Monday night reminds us of anything it is that, despite political differences, there is always more that unites us than divides us.
As we saw from events in London in 2005, and from incidents of terrorism across Europe in recent years, the Manchester attacks will affect victims, their friends, their families, and their communities for many years to come. We also cannot escape the reality that this attack will have a broader societal effect – as we witnessed after the brutal murder of MP Jo Cox during last year’s referendum campaign. Such tragic events set a context that cannot (and should not) fail to fundamentally impact our national political conversations. If we are to come through these events it is vital that, in these conversations, the better angels of our nature win through.
There are those who, sadly, have already sought to use this terrible attack for political purposes – to fuel further hate and vitriol against those they consider to be outside of their communities. If we answer this call to further bitterness, allowing a divisive ‘us’ vs ‘them’ mentality to lead our response, then we hand those who plan and instigate these terrible crimes the victory that they crave.
In the place of hatred, let us breed compassion. In our grief, let us find common ground with those who face loss at the hands of terrorists and tyrants everywhere. As it is for us in Britain today so it has been in cities across Europe, in the US, and is daily for those caught up in the conflict zones of Syria, Iraq, the Yemen, Sudan and far too many other places. Our tragedy brings us closer to theirs.
As we mourn with those in our immediate communities who face such immeasurable loss we must also empathise with those all around the world, with whom today we share a common grief, a common fear, but also a common hope for a better, freer, safer future. It is in finding that common ground and in seeking always to be bigger, to do better and to stand stronger by the victims of senseless violence and injustice everywhere that we win.
There is always more that unites us than divides us.