03 / 07 / 18
Parliamentors keynote speech – Luciana Berger MP
Thank you, my name is Luciana Berger, and I am the Labour MP for Liverpool Wavertree.
Today is a day of congratulations, so let me add to the congratulations to you all for graduating from the ParliaMentors Programme in its 11th year. As we say in my tradition Mazel Tov. It’s fantastic to see so many young people here in the House today. I was going to say what an honour it is to follow the Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker Bercow. But sadly, because of Brexit, it’s been a busy day and I echo what you just heard. He would never want to let you down.
2018 is a year you will all remember as the year you graduated from the ParliaMentors scheme. I hope you have all enjoyed the experience, and the support and advice given by the individual MPs who mentored you and your activities. I know when I have previously mentored participants it was a mutually rewarding experience. I currently have 3 people in my office who are on different schemes and I know how rewarding programmes like this can be.
2018 is also a year of anniversaries. As a Parliamentarian, I cannot miss mentioning the 1918 Representation of the People’s Act, which brought some – but not all – women into the political system by giving them the vote. 100 years since we won the vote for women. In 2028, we will celebrate full equality when all adult women got the vote, but the 1918 Act is a remarkable landmark.
It took 50 years of struggle and sacrifice by women to win the vote. They campaigned, they marched, they petitioned, they met with ministers, they lobbied Parliament – some even lost their lives – and yet still male MPs believed women should not be allowed to vote. Some women, called (as an insult) Suffragettes, took ever more desperate measures. They smashed the windows of West End shops, they burned down buildings, including an MPs home, they sent bombs to ministers, they went on hunger strike, and they fought with police outside Parliament. All to get women the vote – something you might take for granted.
When I go to work, and walk through the corridors of Parliament, and enter the Chamber of the House of Commons, I sometimes think of those women and what they did. I wonder – would we be so brave? Would we risk everything for an ideal, a cause, a democratic right to vote? Could we do, what the Suffragettes did? My point is that all of us are standing on the shoulders of giants. We all owe everything to the people who went before us, who were pioneers, who stood up to oppression, who stood out from the crowd, who dared like Daniel to enter the Lion’s Den. And so often in human history, it is people of faith that are at the front of the protest, first to stand up and be counted.
Faith is a deeply personal thing. It is intertwined with our families, our cultures, our personal histories, our personal choices, our ethnic background and heritage. It manifests in different ways, in different ways of worship, ritual, liturgy and practice. You will know, each of you, how your faith manifests in your daily lives. But what all the major religions share is a belief that there’s more to life than ‘me’ ‘myself’ and ‘I’. Each reject narrow individualism, selfishness and greed. Each believes instead that we are a human family, we belong to one another, we are a community, bound by ties of mutualism and reciprocity.
I am my Brother’s (and Sister’s) Keeper. And by recognising this interconnectivity, these bonds between us, we behave in different ways – more altruistic, more egalitarian, more kind. The Scottish philosopher John McMurray said that to be ourselves, we need each other. No person is an island, we relate to each other, we interact with each other, we need each other to survive and thrive. As it says in the Jewish book the Talmud, to save one life is to save the whole of humanity. And once you accept this great truth, you are compelled to serve other people, serve your community, serve your God. All the great religions have this element of charity, or altruistic service, or good works at their heart. Of course, we cannot claim all good deeds are done by followers of religion – just as many are performed by those who see the world in different ways. Nor can we, alas, say that all actions taken in the name of religion are good.
But we can say, that to serve others is a righteous thing, and the rewards come not just in a practical sense, but in a rewarding, spiritual sense as well. That’s why, whilst I love and respect our Parliament, with its rich history and tradition, I prefer to be in my constituency offering practical support to people that need it. MPs are the servants of the people. The people are the bosses. They lend us power through the ballot box, to do what we think is best, and one day, they can take it away again. I am a Jewish MP, a Labour MP, a Liverpool MP, a female MP, a younger MP, and all of these identities combine to make me who I am, just as all your identities combine to make you who you are. But faith is the glue that binds them all together.
Here’s another anniversary for you – 50 years since the death of Martin Luther King. Dr King was a man of faith. He led a mighty civil rights movement to contest a system of racial segregation in the United States of America. Black children had to go to separate schools, black people had to sit in a different part of restaurants or buses or use separate toilets and water fountains. And these physical forms of racial discrimination were just the outward signs of a system of inequality – inequality in the law, economy, education, everything. Dr King showed us the power of non-violent protest, dignified resistance in the face of terrible violence. And fifty years ago, Martin Luther King was assassinated by a white racist. Dr King was not yet 40 years old, but his legacy was a change in the laws of the USA, so that one day there could be a black president of the United States.
Is granting women the vote the end of the story? Was the civil rights act in the USA the end of the story? No, of course not. Women still face discrimination in modern Britain, still more likely to earn less, to be assaulted, to be in dangerous domestic situations. And racism still exists, in America and in Europe, including the oldest form of racism – anti-Semitism – in new and virulent forms. So the struggle for justice takes new forms, and demands new sacrifices.
Sometimes, the scale and pace of change around us makes us feel powerless. We are living through a revolution in technology as profound as any change in human history. This is a fourth industrial revolution, and like the previous ones it is changing the way we work, shop, socialise, think, and fall in love. Millions of humans are being born to parents who would never have met without the internet! A couple of years ago the website Match.Com claimed one million babies had been born thanks to their success in getting couples together. And the technological revolution is transforming the world’s economy. The world’s economy is tilting towards the south and the east; India and China are marching ahead. The continent of Africa is rising. New technologies are being developed every minute – mapping our genomes, driverless cars, drones in the skies.
Amidst all this change, so many people feel they can’t make a difference, that forces are beyond their control. And yet – when the Suffragettes came up against the immoveable force of male privilege, they moved mountains and won the vote. And yet – when the civil rights movements came up against might of segregation and the KKK, they broke through centuries of hatred, and changed their society. And when you looked about you, you didn’t retreat because it was hard, or the task seemed difficult, you got on and changed the world, even just by a few inches.
So now, it is up to you, the next generation of change-makers, challengers, champions of justice. The generation that can rise to greatness as previous ones have done and stand on the platforms they have built for you and leave the world a better place than how you found it.
Thank you for inviting me to share in your achievement and very special celebration. Take what you have learnt and good luck.