(This is from a speech given by Steven Woolfe MEP at the University of Kent on March 6, 2019 and published in Spiked Online in March 2019)
To the business of the evening: Liberty, Freedom, Democracy. Those words roll off the tongue so easily, don’t they? But how easily we forget how difficult it was to win that freedom. As Ronald Reagan said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in our bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on to them to do the same.”
It is that freedom which allowed a boy – sorry, a man, as I am reminded by the grey hairs in the mirror each morning — born in Moss Side Manchester to stand before you today. A boy born on a council estate to a father who was called a coon, a nigger, a half-caste because he was the child of a black American and a Jew, and was one of that first group of ‘coloured’ men to be born and grow up in that Northern city.
A boy born to a mother who was the child of an Irish grandmother, who came to work for the nuns at 15, and my English grandfather who, when asked, without hesitation fought in the sands of North Africa to help restore freedom across the European Continent.
A boy who, alongside his single mother and brother, lived in the same small room of my grandparents’ council house, whilst we waited six years for our own. A boy whose family believed in our country and its values, despite our relative poverty.
We were a family that said education and hard work would help me get on in life in this country, because our system had created a free education at primary school; that enabled me to win a scholarship to a school that was once a grammar school; to go to university to study law, to receive a grant and free education; that enabled me to win scholarships, so that I could become a barrister, which helped me get a job in the financial services sector, work for investment banks and hedge funds, and allowed me to stand for election. So that I can stand here today, on this stage, before you, free to argue that the same freedom I enjoyed should be available to the next generation like me from any estate, town or village in the country.
I had all that only because others before me had stood up and risked their lives for freedom and democracy.
From the Leveller John Lilburne, known as Freeborn John, imprisoned in the Tower in 1646, to the Burford Three, murdered in 1649 in a country church for wanting a freely-elected parliament, to the 22 killed by our own soldiers in the Newport Rising in 1839 for wanting to free imprisoned Chartists, to the Pentrich Martyrs executed in 1817 for rising up against the poverty in our country, to the Suffragettes beaten outside our Parliament in 1910 for wanting the vote for women.
Or like the, 80,000 ordinary men and women came together at Peterloo Square on 16 August 1819 . They came to debate and argue for the freedom to vote, to have the ability to choose their lawmakers. The government sent in soldiers to suppress these lovers of freedom. Fifteen were killed, including two children, hundreds more were maimed and injured.
Levellers, Diggers, Pentrich, Newport, Chartist, Suffragettes, Peterloo. People died, risked their lives to fight the elites, so that they could have the vote, have democracy, have the ability to choose those people who could enact laws that would lead, at last, to having a council house, a free health service, decent wages, a chance for their family and children to live, breathe, be free. A chance for a mixed-race boy to be educated, and to stand in front of you today, on this stage, free.
The elites had fought for hundreds of years to deny power to the masses. We, the people, thought we had finally won.
However, in 1972, the elites schemed to take away this new power by taking us into what became the European Union. They agreed to treaties that handed over the power to decide our lives and destination to unelected European civil servants.
I stand on this stage today because I will not allow the sacrifice of those who gave me the chance to stand on this stage to be taken away by the elites once again. I will not allow those who died so that we could elect our own politicians to make laws that gave me and millions more a council house, a health service, fair wages, education, to be taken away from us and handed to officials of the European state who are not elected by us, cannot be removed by us and cannot be held to account by us.
I stand on this stage for my mother, father, grandfather and grandmother, for my brothers and sisters, for the future of my daughter. I stand on this stage so that you can have that freedom, so that your children can have power over their lives, so that in the future they do not forget the sacrifice of the past.
I stand on this stage so that the children of the future live in a democracy where their votes matter, and they have power over the elites, not subservience under bureaucracy.