Jan 12: Europe united in peace march

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TODAY’S world, and specifically the aftermath to France’s terrorist attacks, could not be more different to 400 years ago when the poet John Donne wrote so profoundly: “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”

Yet such eloquence could not be more indicative of an international show of solidarity which saw 40 world leaders, including David Cameron, marching arm in arm as more than one million people commemorated the innocent victims of last week’s atrocities.

This unprecedented display of unity and dignity fully vindicated the French president Francois Hollande’s courageous decision to authorise the march at a time of heightened security and uphold the values which are the most fundamental of all in a civilised world: freedom of speech and expression.

As pencils were passed through the vast crowds in tribute to the cartoonists at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo who were slaughtered on Wednesday because of their unflattering depictions of the Prophet Mohammed, it was clearly a humbling moment for President Hollande as Paris reverberated to La Marseillaise as a tide of humanity swept into the city. “Today, Paris is the capital of the world,” he declared.

President Hollande had been clearly inspired by the 18th century French philosopher Voltaire who famously observed: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

This was a signal to the world, and those extremists who do not respect the liberty of all, that freedom of speech is non-negotiable in a diverse society where different faiths now co-exist.

This was not just a watershed moment for France where issues pertaining to multi-culturalism are far more deep-rooted than those being experienced on this side of the English Channel, but a historic day for the whole of Europe as marchers called for ink, and not blood, to flow following the end of a traumatic week.

Terrorism thrives at times of division and this unity rally, one which even attracted brought the leaders of Israel and Palestine together, served as a powerful reminder about the need for European governments to work together on counter-terrorism and measures to combat anti-Semitism

It will not be easy as Mr Cameron returns to London to receive an update today from the security services about the likelihood of a terrorist outrage in Britain, and the additional support that they might need to catch the perpetrators. Specifically, this revolves around more draconian internet surveillance laws. While some argue that national security trumps all considerations, others, like Nick Clegg, fear any further erosion of civil liberties. Yet, while such views should be respected, they are a necessary price to pay if the priceless values of freedom and liberty are to be preserved. The world today is an island and the best way of defeating terrorists is the million-plus expressions of human decency witnessed in yesterday’s historic march for peace – standing up for liberty is a far better deterrent to terrorism than a political focus on the sources of division.


A NHS call to arms

AS for the National Health Service, this week is beginning as last week ended with Labour exploiting the A&E crisis and Ed Miliband claiming, emotively, that May’s election will be about the very future of the NHS.

However, the Opposition leader, and Doncaster North MP, made a significant omission when he listed the additional doctors and nurses that will be recruited by any future Labour government. Numbers will be immaterial unless there is better care, and diagnosis, in order to maximise the Health Service’s resources.

The new five-year cancer plan, launched by Leeds-based NHS England, is a case in point. Headed by Cancer Research UK chief executive Harpal Kumar, it is to focus on better prevention, swifter diagnosis, more effective treatment and after-care.

It is also the culmination of many years of dogged campaigning by England’s talismanic rugby union international Lawrence Dallaglio following the death of his indefatigable mother Eileen from cancer in 2008.

He said it was morally and economically wrong that sufferers continue to be denied cutting-edge radiotherapy which is quicker, and more effective, than other treatments. Just as significantly, the 2003 World Cup winner, who was educated at Ampleforth, said too much cancer expertise was centred on London and the South East and it was vital that patients across the regions also had access to the best care.

At a time when the main parties are pre-occupied with the trading of smears, this is one of the most powerful interventions that has been made this year on the NHS, and Dallaglio’s call-to-arms is one which needs to be heeded.