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Just after five Britons were released from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and returned to England, British Home Secretary David Blunkett took the podium at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum yesterday and told an audience that being liberal and taking security measures are not contradictory aims.
In his speech, entitled “Renewing Democracy: Why Government Must Invest in Civil Renewal,” Blunkett addressed the role of government in local and international communities.
Yesterday’s talk, sponsored by the Institute of Politics, followed Blunkett’s speech given Monday at Harvard Law School. During the question and answer session after Monday’s speech—that dealt with the global threat of terrorism—Blunkett announced that five British detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba would be released to England within 24 hours. Yesterday, five Britons returned to their homeland and four of them were arrested under the Terrorism Act while immigration authorities detained the fifth.
But while Blunkett dealt with general international security concerns in his speech at the Kennedy School of Government, he did not specifically discuss the return of these prisoners yesterday.
Instead, Blunkett chose to focus on how government can revitalize the community. He first stressed the importance of family.
“Family is part of the glue of the building blocks of society,” he said.
He said the disintegration of family and social values push people to move out of local communities—a phenomenon that government should work against.
Blunkett said that government should reinforce the sense of identity and belonging in communities.
“We cannot live in a gated community,” said Blunkett, referring to the increasing isolation among communities both locally and globally.
Blunkett said that modern democracy—in its current state—marginalizes people who aren’t already involved.
He said that “people in the know”—citizens who have a sense of belonging—already influence government and society, and these people often leave out others. He said this “disintegration of democracy” will disempower everyone in the end.
Blunkett also said that educated people have a stake in society and a responsibility to identify with a wider community.
Following his speech, Blunkett addressed a range of questions—from how American politics relates to the British government to a question that challenged his stance on political participation.
Blunkett was asked why the Republican Party has become so prominent in the United States while in England, a party that represents the opposite end of the ideological spectrum—the Labour Party—has risen to power.
Blunkett, a member of the Labour Party, answered that the United States and England are two different societies. But he linked that the dominance of these political parties in their respective countries to the popularity of their leaders.
He suggested that if President Clinton could have run for a third term, his candidacy could have changed today’s political landscape in the United States. Similarly, if British Prime Minister Tony Blair had the same term limits as President Clinton, Blunkett said that the Labour Party might have had a tougher time securing a majority in the British Parliament.
Another audience member challenged Blunkett’s blanket call for increased political participation. Blunkett was asked if people should be encouraged to participate in politics even if they support entities like the British National Party, which is staunchly anti-immigration.
Blunkett, who referred to this party as “neo-fascist,” said the government should directly face the fears of insecurity that foster these type of sentiments.
He then praised his party’s “left-of-center government” in its ability to deal with general issues of security and stability.
Blunkett, who has been blind since birth, has served as the British home secretary since 2001. He was first elected to the British Parliament in 1987.
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