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Howard: Liberal democracy is worth fighting for

Speech to Policy Exchange

"Sixteen years ago Francis Fukuyama proclaimed the end of history.

His ideas were more complex than many imagined. But the basic thought seemed to catch the public mood. Following the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and subsequently the Soviet Union itself, the West felt relatively peaceful and secure. In the great ideological divide of the second half of the 20th century, liberal democracy had stood firm. And it had won.

So, after the tension of the 1980s, in 1989 the West could maybe be forgiven for sitting back and relaxing just a little. We wanted to believe in the `end of history'.

Alas history had other ideas.

It is difficult to know how long a chapter of history has been opened by recent terrorist attacks.

But what is clear is that it is a significant chapter. And it raises significant questions about our response.

The most immediate and obvious steps to be taken are measures to improve our security.

Conservatives have offered our support for most of the Government's plans. But we have highlighted two areas of possible concern.

The first relates to the proposal to extend the maximum period of detention prior to charge to three months. We do not believe that the Government has yet made a convincing case for this, and we need to study it carefully. I have asked to be shown, on Privy Council terms, those cases in which the existing time limits proved a serious impediment to proper investigation of the evidence. That meeting is to take place tomorrow.

When it comes to the issue of glorifying terrorism, it is important of course that people who encourage terrorism are either expelled or locked up. But we need to be careful that we don't also unnecessarily limit free speech or weaken the provision itself by making it too wide.

And it is no use Parliament deliberating and deciding on these great issues if the conclusions it reaches are then, in effect, struck down by the courts.

In December, in the judgement on the Belmarsh detainees, Lord Hoffman made the following claim: "The real threat to the life of the nation … comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these." As Tony Blair has said, it is doubtful whether those words would be uttered today.

Of course it is by no means entirely the fault of the judges themselves that they have been drawn into areas of political controversy. That is exactly what the Human Rights Act does.

We have called for that Act to be reviewed and, if it cannot be properly amended, repealed. But there is perhaps scope even while it stays on the statute book for a greater measure of judicial restraint. The judges should recognise that Parliament should, save in the most extreme of cases, be left to decide what laws are necessary, especially when national security is at stake.

There are other measures which we believe that Government should take.

We have long called for a Minister for Homeland Security, whose job 24 hours a day 7 days a week would be to think about nothing else except the threats we face to our security and the best way we can counter them.

We have proposed the use of intercept evidence in court, a course which we are pleased that the Government is now considering. Earlier this year we put forward a detailed scheme, involving a pre-trial judicial hearing, which would enable that to happen.

Effective border controls are also essential if we are to counter terrorists.

A British border police; checks on people leaving the country; an overhaul of our asylum system, even if that means derogating from parts of the European Convention on Human Rights. These are all measures that would help make Britain safer.

Last week we learnt where Charles Kennedy stands on some of these issues.

We also learnt about some of the factors he is taking into account when deciding whether to co-operate with the Government or not.

He told his Party Conference: `Ours will be a distinct voice in this debate'.

`I won't play a walk-on part' he said.

This is not a play. It's not an episode of Extras. At stake here is the security of our country. The stance of an opposition party should not depend on the prominence its leader is given on the national stage. It should be determined not by personal pique but by the national interest. And the national interest is the measure against which Conservatives will judge the Governments proposals.

It isn't just domestically that action needs to be taken to counter what is a global threat from terrorism.

The Prime Minister is right to call for international action against terrorism.

It should hardly need saying - but it does - that terrorist activity wherever it takes place, including suicide bombing, should be condemned unequivocally by everyone. Failing to condemn the murder of civilians in one country, simply because their government supports a policy which some happen not to like, opens the door to those who take a similar approach to civilians in Britain.

That is why it is so disappointing that the United Nations was unable to agree a definition of terrorism earlier this month. That failure reveals the equivocation which runs the risk of undermining effective international action in this field.

Some at this point, not necessarily in this audience, may be getting impatient.

Shouldn't we be focusing less on action to restrict liberty and more on action to address grievances? In other words shouldn't we be addressing the underlying causes of the terrorism?

There are undoubtedly many injustices around the globe. As far as it is within our power and purview, we need to work to help put them right.

Few are keener than I to see a fair settlement in Middle East, involving a secure Israel living beside a viable Palestinian state.

Such a settlement should come about because it is just. Of course it's true that terrorists may seek to exploit conflict - in Palestine, in Iraq or elsewhere - as an excuse to try to recruit new supporters.

But one thing is clear. Addressing such issues will not put an end to Al Qaeda and their associates. Al Qaeda's goal is not to end western involvement in Iraq or to create a Palestinian state living happily side by side with Israel.

At the heart of their beliefs is a fanatical view about western society itself, which they regard as fundamentally immoral and corrupt.

Such corruption, they believe, also makes liberal democracies rotten and weak. So the last thing we should do is respond to their attacks with weakness or equivocation. That is precisely the kind of reaction that would encourage them further.

Since 7 July there has rightly been a debate. Not a debate between faith communities, but one involving people of all faiths and none. And it has not been conducted in a spirit of acrimony and blame, a fact which does all communities great credit.

The questions people from all communities have been asking relate to our nature as a society; to the values Britons share; to the nature of Britishness itself.

I don't have time this evening to say as much as I would like about this.

But perhaps one of the mistakes we have made in recent years is a tendency to place too much emphasis on the need to encourage the retention of attachment to other traditions, and not enough on the British identity we all share. Rather than cherishing the ties that bind us, we have been focusing on what divides us.

Surely it is time to reverse this trend; our democracy, monarchy, rule of law, history, these are the things which need to be understood more and better.

Central to successful integration into any society is an ability to speak the language. At a time when increasing numbers of people in Asia, Africa and Latin America are learning to speak English, far too many British immigrants have little more than a rudimentary grasp of the language. We need a sustained effort to teach English to everyone who comes to Britain.

And we need to instil into all British children, whatever their religion or skin colour, a sense of pride in our institutions and our way of life.

As we take these steps, I believe there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the chances of success.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of Francis Fukuyama's theories, at their heart was a message not about the end of all conflict but about the enduring strength of liberal democracy.

And in that, at least, I believe he was right.

That is not to underestimate the terrorist threat we now face, any more than the previous threats.

Nor is it to diminish the resolve we now need to tackle it.

But now, as then, we have cause to be confident in the values of liberal democracy. Those values have emerged over centuries. They have withstood the tests both of time and of all that our enemies could throw at us.

We can I believe have confidence that our values will endure.

Confidence that liberal democracy is both worth fighting for and strong enough to win."

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