Monday, 23 August 2010

A time to reflect

This year has seen many second world war anniversaries pass by, recently the 65th anniversary of VJ day. Today, I also read the obituary of Lord Lovat's piper who played the troops ashore on D-Day. It led me to thinking about that conflict that did so much to shape modern Britain. Few parts of these islands bear the physical scars of those dark days as much as the East End, which had to take it from the Luftwaffe night after night as Britain stood alone against tyranny. But greater even than these are the scars it left on the people. I've met many locals whose memories are still searingly vivid; they remember the night the lighters had to take everyone off Wapping when the bridges were up and fire took hold; the smell of burning sugar or treacle that takes them back to the night that Tate's got it; those who can't walk down the steps of Bethnal Green station without getting goosebumps.

As this generation fades to join their colleagues who made the ultimate sacrifice, as the Flos, Dots, Sidneys and Ernests that I met on the doorstep when I first campaigned here a decade ago become fewer and fewer, I reflect on whether East London today has deserved their sacrifices and hardships they endured. Pessimists will say that the borough has become divided by race and class more than it ever was in their time. That may have some truth in it. But I'm an optimist. I believe that this borough is not irreconcilibly divided. All communities share the same aspirations; they want a good education for their children, opportunities for work and to feel safe in their homes and on their streets. I believe with a leadership that speaks to and for all sections of the new East End, the future will do the wartime generation proud. If ever I come to doubt that our communities can work together, it is only a short walk from my home to the Merchant Navy memorial at Tower Hill. Embossed in bronze are the names of the crewmen and their vessels that were lost at sea for the cause of freedom, and there amongst the Smiths, MacDonalds and Joneses are the Ahmeds, Rahmans and Hussains who represent the Bengali seamen who served and died alongside them. The survivors formed the kernel of our Bengali-British community here in Tower Hamlets.

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