20 years on from the Manchester bomb

I want you to cast your mind back if you can to what you were doing on the weekend of 14 to 16 June 1996.

My memory of it is unusually clear.

It was certainly a hot one - even in Manchester.

On the Friday night, I had been at Anfield to watch a surprise Czech Republic win over Italy. 

The next day, before heading to a Elland Road for a dull draw between France and Spain, I watched a dazzling Gazza dance through the Scottish defence and fall into that infamous "dentist's chair". 

On the Friday night, I had been at Anfield to watch a surprise Czech Republic win over Italy. 

The next day, before heading to a Elland Road for a dull draw between France and Spain, I watched a dazzling Gazza dance through the Scottish defence and fall into that infamous "dentist's chair". 


Then, on the Sunday afternoon, surprised that the game was still taking place, I was in Manchester to see eventual winners Germany demolish Russia.

Why surprised? Because, just the day before, the biggest bomb in Britain since World War 2 had exploded right here in the heart of this city.

Mercifully, no-one died. But the injury toll was terrible - 212 in all. And the devastation vast.

It was an outrageous attack on the heart of the North West - just as it was in Europe's spotlight for the first time in decades.

As the 20th anniversary approaches next week, we think of everyone who was affected on that day and we thank this city's emergency services who did do much to minimise the injury toll.

When I was planning to make this speech, I had to double-check that these two vivid events really did take place on the same weekend because they weren't linked in my mind.

But then I recalled a dim memory of checking teletext on the morning of Sunday 16 June to find out whether the game at Old Trafford was still on.

Looking back, I think that says something truly remarkable about Manchester.

There was no chance that the people of this city were going to let the terrorists get their way. 

This was Manchester's chance to shine at Euro 96. 

It would not succumb to the fear, division and recrimination that all terrorism is designed to create.

If anything, the terrorists achieved the opposite. They pulled people together.

The bomb was a shock but it did not dispel the positivity, unity and possibility that was in the air.

It was an extraordinary time.

Maybe the feel good factor was a result of the football.

Maybe the fast-recovering economy.

Or maybe it was because there had been a change in the national mood with the bomb down the road in Warrington just a couple of years earlier. 

By the mid-90s, different voices had entered the Northern Ireland debate - such as the incredible Colin and Wendy Parry.

Whilst for years politicians had talked of retribution, they talked of reconciliation.

In the end, who knows what it was that had made us so optimistically defiant.

But the feeling was clear: the country was fed up with being dragged down by its past and the shadow of fear and violence. It was time to build a new future.

One of the reasons for wanting to give this speech here at the Chamber ahead of this important anniversary was to allow me praise your members and the businesses of this city who never flinched in their commitment to it.

You didn't just rally round when the bomb hit.

You were determined to rebuild, to invest, to play your part in getting this city ready to welcome the world for the Commonwealth Games just six years later.

And we have all been reaping the benefits ever since. 

Think about what the area around the Etihad was like on 15 June 1996. And think of it today.

The turn-around is enormous and a huge amount of the credit for that must also go to a forward-thinking council and ambitious city-region.

This anniversary is also a time to pay tribute to Sir Richard Leese and Sir Howard Bernstein for what they have done between them to make Manchester the city it is today.

Their efforts are all the more remarkable when you consider that Richard was less than a month in office when the bomb struck. But he seized the moment.

The rebuilding started straight away and, actually, has never stopped since. 

Manchester had changed when the bomb came and so was ready to respond in the way it did.

And that change helped go on to change the country.

This city's positive response set the tone for Good Friday Agreement which came 2 years later.

When I look back at this incredible series of events, they seems to belong to a bygone age.

Now, we live in very different times. The national mood has completely changed.

Possibility has given way to pessimism.

Solidarity to suspicion. 

Confidence to confusion.

Hope to fear.

It is almost a complete reversal of where we were. 

Back then we couldn't wait to welcome Europe in. Now some want to send their return invitation back unopened.

So that's why I wanted to speak to you today - to consider whether some of way we dealt with those security challenges back then might hold the key to helping us move forward from where we find ourselves now.

One thing seems clear to me.

That optimistic national mood back then clearly helped us fight the right response to that attempt to divide and disrupt and it can now be seen to have succeeded.

By contrast, today's cynicism and uncertainty is taking us to the wrong solutions.

Let me explain.

At the weekend, I was in Bolton and met a group of leaders from the town's long-standing Muslim community.

One said something that stuck with me: "We are the new Irish community", he said.

He talked of lived with the feeling that the entire community was under suspicion, and said it reminded him of 70s and 80s Britain.

He is not alone. 

A prominent Muslim in Oldham emailed me to say this: "I have been part of mainstream politics for over 25 years, contributing in many senior roles including Mayor. I was one of the first Muslims in England to call the 9/11 terrorists psychopaths. I went on the record to support allied action in Afghanistan. Yet every time there is an atrocity by terrorists anywhere, I am considered guilty by association."

This week, saw my 15th anniversary of being elected to Parliament. Three months after I took my seat in 2001, two planes flew into the World Trade Center in New York.

Ever since, we have been struggling - and failing - to find the right response to this new form of terrorism.

That single event shocked us out of the optimism and unity that had been so tangible just five years before.

That is exactly what it was designed to do, just like the Manchester bomb.

But this time, instead of building bridges, we seem to have slipped back into the language of division, suspicion and alienation.

Terrorists want to foment a clash of between people and religions. 

And here's a big difference between 1996 and 2016 - modern forms of terrorism are cleverer at achieving it.

They ratchet up the brutality and the depravity to get a bigger reaction from us which will in turn fuel an upwards spiral.

They want nothing more than for us to take out our anger at them on our law-abiding Muslim community - to distrust them, to alienate them - and sadly they are having too much success.

I have come to the reluctant conclusion that we are increasingly playing into their hands.

What is desperately now needed is a step back, reflection on what we did 20 years ago and why it succeeded, and from there to develop a cleverer and more sophisticated response.

Let me be clear.

I am not for one second advocating a softly-softly approach when it comes to identifying and dealing with terrorists or terrorism.

As Shadow Home Secretary, in the wake of the Paris attacks, I successfully called on the Government to reverse severe cuts to the Police.

It is why I asked Labour to support the Investigatory Powers Bill, which cleared the Commons this week.

I did this because the Bill allows for a targeted response to the problem.

That is what is needed. What I will never do is put our name to policies based on stereotypes and generalisation.

The Prevent duty to report extremist behaviour is today's equivalent of internment in Northern Ireland - a policy felt to be highly discriminatory against one section of the community.

It creating a feeling in the Muslim community that it is being spied upon and unfairly targeted.

It is building a climate of mutual suspicion and distrust.

Far from tackling extremism, it risks creating the very conditions for it to flourish. 

It is time to recall the spirit of 96 and bring people back together.

Ministers should set up a cross-party review on how the statutory duty is working in practice.

As part of that review, they need to bring into Parliament young Muslims from Bolton, Bury, Oldham and Rochdale and let them describe how it feels to be them in 2016.

And, while this review is on-going, they should postpone any further legislation.

In Bolton last weekend, I heard the fear expressed that the forthcoming Extremism Bill will make matters massively worse, not better.

In it, the Government is talking of regulating madrasahs and mosques.

There are two major problems with this.

First, it cements an impression that extremism is the preserve of one community when in fact it is on the rise in all communities.

Second, and much more dangerously, by placing the very institutions of the Muslim community on a different legislative footing to those of others, it creates a highly-problematic and inaccurate impression that extremism is endemic in the institutions of that community.

Britain must remain a place where everybody is free to express and develop their beliefs without the fear that they are being spied upon. 


That freedom is part of what makes this country a wonderful place to live and worship and we must never lose it.

This is why Labour will oppose the Government's Extremism Bill. It owes more to mid-70s Belfast than mid-90s Manchester. It is dangerous and it must be stopped. 

Behind the Government's impulse to keep on legislating in this area seems a desire to feed the newspapers that traditionally support it.

But that will never solve the problem.

If they truly want to tackle extremism, they should reach beyond their own support base and urgently put some hope into the despondent hearts of the Muslim community.

As my friend from Oldham says: "The Government is losing the young generation of the Muslim population and this will have a long-term impact."

While I will wait for the conclusions of the cross-party review, my fear is that Prevent is so toxic now that it will need to be scrapped.

A new initiative should be started afresh founded on a relationship of trust with the Muslim community, where they are helped to deal with the tiny number of people at risk of radicalisation. 

Alongside this, there needs to be a clear demonstration that there will be a renewed determination to tackle all forms of extremism - including Islamophobia and anti-semitism - to correct the erroneous perception extremism is the preserve of just one community.

I believe that decisive steps like these are essential if the Government's counter-radicalisation policies are to have any realistic chance of success.

But our ability to tackle terrorism is also critically linked to the outcome of the European Referendum.

Last weekend, the former Chief Constable of Greater Manchester joined two former Metropolitan police commissioners to say that our membership of the EU helps us to fight crime and terrorism. 

Here are some facts that the Leave campaign won't tell you.

In the last five years, the European Arrest Warrant has removed 268 suspected criminals from Greater Manchester. If we could no longer use it, we would go back to seeing delays of years to deport people or bring people back to the UK to face justice. 

As Sir Peter Fahy rightly pointed out, it would damage our ability to fight international crime. 

Before it came in, one suspect in the 1995 Paris metro bombings was held in British custody for over seven years before he could be extradited to Paris and convicted.

Now there is no such wait. 

I was in the Home Office on 7/7 and 21/7 and I signed one of the first EAWs used for a terrorist suspect in this country - Husein Osman who fled through the Eurostar terminal.

He was back facing justice within weeks. As the former Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Keir Starmer, says: "Without the arrest warrant, we would be lucky if he was touching down about now."

A man linked to the Charlie Hebdo shootings last year was immediately returned to Paris from Bulgaria under the arrest warrant.

Would we want to go back to a Europe where it takes seven years to return a suspect? How does that make us safer?

The Director of Europol, British national Rob Wainwright, has said that fighting crime and terrorism in the UK would be costlier and "much less effective" if the UK leaves the EU.

And let's state for the record: outside of Schengen, we are in control of our own borders. People have no unqualified right to enter the UK.

That is a fact the Leave campaign have wilfully misrepresented. 

We have even, because we are inside the EU, been able to put British border controls alongside French ones in Calais and Brussels - meaning passports are checked before people set foot on British soil and stops people even arriving here.

And because our EU membership allows us access to EU intelligence sharing databases, we know far more than we would otherwise know about EU nationals seeking to enter our country.

But, in the end, this decision boils down to something simpler.

Turning your back on any group never makes you safer.

A vote to leave is a vote for isolation - and that just can't make sense in today's volatile world.

But we are two weeks away from that real possibility.

So how did we get to this point?

It is down to the failure of politicians, not the public.

I understand why people want to protest at an elite which hasn't listened for at least a decade to their legitimate concerns on immigration.

But this vote is much bigger than that. It is about the future of our economy and the future of our country.

If we vote to leave, other dominos will start to fall. A second Scottish independence referendum will be inevitable.

It won't just be the EU that begins to break up; it will be Britain too. 

The fragmented and fearful world that will result if we head down this isolationist road is exactly what the terrorists want but what their bombs have so far been unable to achieve.

They want to us to argue amongst ourselves. They want to stoke greater conflict between nations, races and religions. They want us to abandon our cooperation on counter-terrorism. They want us to vote to leave.

Don't make it easier for them.

They didn't succeed here in Manchester 20 years ago because we were united in wanting a better, more positive future for our city - a European city ready to welcome the world for the Commonwealth Games.

And it's that spirit that we need to remember now.

So I want to make a direct appeal today to people still undecided: don't make your vote a protest vote. It's too important for that.

Vote for what you think will make us stronger and safer in the future.

Immigration is important. But not more important than the future of the economy and the future of the country. 

Whatever happens, there will have to be changes to the rules around the way EU free movement works. The EU won't survive if it refuses to listen and adapt.

I have been calling for changes for years. 

We need real funding for communities facing most change and pressure. And we need rules to protect skilled wages, ending the incentive for poor employers to bring large number of people here.

But these changes can be achieved without sacrificing our economy, our safety, our harmonious society.

You don't have to work in politics to have noticed that our political climate is becoming increasingly poisoned. 

I have noticed with growing alarm in recent times at how race and religion have re-entered the political discourse as seemingly legitimate points of comment.

There is a casual xenophobia abroad which the European Referendum debate has undoubtedly engendered.

When any politician starts linking migrants with sex attacks, it's time to get very worried.

People need to ask where a political debate conducted in terms such as these takes us and what the real agenda is of some of those advocating a vote to leave.

It is tempting Britain down a road of intolerance, prejudice and nationalism - and we should have none of it.

Whenever people have tried this kind of rhetoric in British politics before, they have been given short shift. 

We haven't bought it before and we shouldn't buy it now.

If Britain votes to leave, rising intolerance, discrimination and xenophobia will be an inevitable consequence. 

People need to ask: do we really want to go down that path?

It is a recipe for isolation and fear - the things that terrorism feeds off - rather than the positivity and the unity that banished it from Manchester in 1996.

It is sometimes an overworked phrase in politics to say that we stand at a crossroads.

But that truly is where find ourselves today and time is running out to choose our path.

When faced with that choice, it rarely makes sense to leave the group and go it alone on an unknown path. 

Since June 15 1996, Manchester has enjoyed two decades of success.

That's because it chose hope over fear, solidarity over division, reconciliation over retribution.

On June 23 2016, we should do exactly the same and vote Remain.