Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

'I Disapprove of What You Say but I Will Defend to the Death Your Right to Say It'

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

'I Disapprove of What You Say but I Will Defend to the Death Your Right to Say It'

Article excerpt


OF the several Remembrance events that I attended, all perfectly executed and inspiring, none was more moving than the dedication of the beautiful Brothers in Arms wall in Sunderland.

Built by public subscription, it is the result of huge effort by families who had each lost a child in the service of their country since the Second World War. The service of dedication took place on the eleventh day of the eleventh month and, as a gun boomed out for the two minute silence, birds wheeled up into the air, crying out in alarm.

It reminded me of that line in 'Flanders Field'... "while in the sky the larks, still bravely singing, fly scarce heard amid the guns below". But these birds weren't larks, they were seabirds, their cries strident and somehow filled with pathos. It seemed a fitting tribute to the dead children of a city which once sent great ships to sea.

FREEDOM of speech is supposed to be jealously guarded in Britain, but at times it seems in short supply. Some people want freedom only for voices which chime with their own.

There are wonderful exceptions, people who say "I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it", words attributed to Voltaire but actually written to sum up what he stood for. I am grateful to them.

One such man is Peter Tatchell, pictured, a gay rights campaigner defeated in the eighties in what I believe was a totally unfair parliamentary election. He has fought many brave battles against homophobia, sometimes incurring physical injury in the process.

Now he is defending a Christian housing worker demoted from his managerial job for saying, on Facebook, that allowing gay marriages to take place in church was "an equality too far". Tatchell described the employer's response as "excessive and disproportionate".

I can't believe Tatchell agrees with that Facebook comment but he wants people to be able to say what they think without fear of retribution. A desire to preserve freedoms other than your own is rare and much to be cherished.

SHARE THE WARMTH: A PACKED meeting room at the House of Commons saw the launch of Surviving Winter, the scheme whereby anyone in receipt of the fuel allowance and just well-off enough not to need it, can donate it to one of the more than two million older people who live in fuel poverty, which is another way of saying they can't afford to keep warm.

It has been estimated that around 25,400 older people died in Britain last winter because of extreme cold. The beauty of the scheme is that you donate to your local Community Foundation. As I said in my speech, I'd find it hard to give money back to the Chancellor but giving it to the widow down the road or the disabled pensioner in the next village is very different. …

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