The Sunderland South Labour Party selected me as their candidate in the summer of 1985, two years before I was elected. Rejoicing was not universal. A few days later an editorial appeared in the Daily Mail which began as follows: "Poor Sunderland. First their football team is relegated and now comes even worse news..."
A year or so later, The Sun published a page of photographs of what it described as "Labour's Top Ten Loony Tunes." I was number eight.
Despite this inauspicious beginning, the people of Sunderland South were kind enough to elect me to Parliament on June 11,1987 with a swing to Labour that was double the national average. Since then I have been re-elected four times. I should make clear at the outset, however, that I am not under the slightest illusion that the large Labour majorities I have enjoyed have much to do with me. Personal votes in politics are small. The size of my majority reflects the fact that I have the words, "The Labour Candidate" after my name on the ballot paper. Watching my votes pile up at the count on the night of the 1992 election my Conservative opponent George Howe (whose local credentials are impeccable) remarked gloomily, "I was born at the wrong end of the country."
To which I, an Essex Man, replied, "So was I."
Having had the honour of representing Sunderland South in Parliament for 20 years, I thought this would be a good moment to take stock of the remarkable changes that have occurred in this city over that time and to say a word or two about where I think we are headed.
Sunderland took quite a battering during the eighties. Looking back at the low point we had reached by the early nineties it is hard to believe that we would be where we are today. When I first came we were still building ships in the yards at Pallion, Austin and Pickersgill and at North Sands, although the writing was already on the wall. Wearmouth Colliery was still employing 2,500 men and there were Sunderland men employed in half a dozen other collieries along the coast. Within a few years all that had gone, along with a fair swathe of our engineering and glass-making industries. By the mid eighties unemployment nationally was approaching three million and locally it touched a terrifying 21 percent. At the time we blamed it all on Mrs Thatcher and her government and no doubt they had something to do with it, but if we are honest, looking back we can see that what was happening in Sunderland was the beginning of a much wider process which we now call globalisation. A process that is taking place inexorably across the developed world and which did not stop merely because there was a change of government. Indeed, one has only to look at the toll on local industry in the ten years since 1997 - Coles Cranes, Vaux, Dewhirst, Corning -- to see that, in most cases, we are up against forces which are beyond the reach of mere national governments.
In one significant respect, however Sunderland has bucked the trend. I refer, of course, to Nissan, the jewel in the crown of Wearside's - and indeed the North East's industrial base. There was a good deal of scepticism about Nissan when I first came here. People said, 'they'll be off as soon as the grants run out.' Well, for once, the cynics have been proved comprehensively wrong. Nissan has not only stayed. It has flourished. It has demonstrated to the world that, given the right investment, the right training and the right management, workers on Wearside are among the world's best.. What's more, Nissan have proved good corporate citizens. From the outset they have shown a willingness to play a part in the life of the city. When the government launched its New Deal programme, designed to get long-term unemployed youngsters off the dole and into work, Nissan immediately stepped up to the plate. I salute Nissan and those who work for it. I pay tribute to all those - in particular former Council leader Charles Slater - who worked so hard to persuade Nissan that Sunderland was the place to be.
Nissan apart, however, the eighties and early nineties were a difficult time for Sunderland. While there may be little a government can do to prop up ailing traditional industries, there is a great deal it can -- and should -- do to equip us to face the chill winds that blow from the global market. First, it has a responsibility to create the overall economic conditions necessary to attract inward investment and to enable existing industry to flourish. Second it has a duty to provide the education and training necessary to equip us with the skills to survive in a global economy.
As regards the first, we have much to celebrate. The UK has enjoyed a decade or more of economic stability. So much so that most people now regard low inflation, low interest rates and low unemployment as an act of God and nothing do with the political party in government, though it is fair to say that, were everything to fall apart, the finger of blame would quickly be pointed in our direction. And if you seek the results, look around. Look at the business parks at Doxford International, North Hylton and Rainton Bridge. Doxford, a green field 15 years ago, now employs over 7,000 people.
And they are not all call centres - not that there is anything wrong with working in a call centre. Companies based at Doxford International include such household names as Northern Rock, Nike and Arriva. Some, such Leighton Internet (our own home grown internet company), Apollo Medical Systems, Onyx, Isocom, employ cutting edge technology and are staffed mostly by young graduates. Exactly the kind of jobs we need more of.
Today unemployment in Sunderland hovers around five percent. Still too high, but light years from where we once were. I am told that just about all of the hundreds of women laid off from Dewhirst's, who wanted to be re-employed, had found new jobs within months of being made redundant.
Equipping all our youngsters with the skills to survive in the modern world has proved a tougher challenge. The mass unemployment of the 1980s inflicted enormous damage upon our fragile social fabric and gave rise to a vast yob culture. Once out of the bottle the Genie has proved hard to put back. In fairness, I should say that other factors besides unemployment contributed to the breakdown of civilised life in parts of our city. Teenage pregnancies, the break up of families, alcohol, drugs, junk videos and a benefit system (which paid as much or more to those out of work as to those in work) all contributed. I do believe, however, that the collapse of work for a generation of unskilled and semi-skilled males lies at the root of many of the social problems with which we struggle today. Today we are grappling with second generation yob culture, as the first generation born in the eighties and early nineties start to bring up their children in their own image and likeness.
If we have learned one thing from the experience of the last two decades, it is that when it comes to tackling social breakdown, you can't start early enough. It breaks my heart to see angelic little children being pushed around the town whom you know, simply by glancing at the parents, stand very little chance of growing up to lead normal, useful, happy lives. One little anecdote is sufficient to illustrate how early the seeds are sown. At the age of four my youngest daughter started attending a half day nursery attached to a local primary school. Parents were invited to choose between a morning shift and an afternoon shift, after which the children proceeded up the school in different classes. After a year or two it was noticed a wide attainment gap opening up between the classes - those whose parents had opted for the morning shift doing were much better than those who had opted for the afternoon. When you think about it the reason was obvious: all those whose parents had a reason to be up and about in time to deliver their children to nursery by a quarter to nine opted for the morning shift. Those still in their slippers and nightdress at midday opted for the afternoon. Already, at the age of four, the attitude of the parents was reflected in their children.
So what are we doing to break this downward spiral? There is no magic solution. No instant results. As I said, the Genie is out of the bottle. It may take decades to put it back again. There is no alternative to the long, hard unglamorous road: literacy, numeracy, training leading to work. One of the first things the government did was to try to open up a gap between the world of work and the world of benefit, thereby removing some of the disincentives to work. That is what the minimum wage, the New Deal and tax credits were about. We introduced Sure Start a programme to provide young mothers in deprived communities with child care facilities while they acquired the skills and self-confidence to join or rejoin the world of work and to give their children a better start in life. We have invested heavily in education at all levels. Nursery places are now available for most three year olds and all four years olds. A huge school building programme is underway -- 16 new primary and secondary schools across the city with another half dozen in the pipeline; some with sports and learning facilities that are open after hours to children and parents. Eighteen hundred kids across the city attend breakfast clubs, resulting in increased attendance, punctuality and concentration. Vocational courses have been re-introduced for non-academic youngsters. Anyone who thinks that none of this is making a difference should go and take a look at the new Valley Road School in Hendon or the new Sandhill View School. Ten years ago a mere15 percent of youngsters were leaving Sandhill with 5 A to C GCSEs and the school was having difficulty filling the available places. Last year the figure was 70 percent and the school is over-subscribed. If that ain't a change for the better, I don't know what is. Sure, there have been setbacks, disappointments and occasionally mistakes along the way; true, we have a long way to go -- we are, after all, starting from a very low base. I truly believe, however, that the effort made during the last decade is the greatest in living memory and that, for those with eyes to see, the results are all around us.
I should say a word about health. We hear a great deal about crises in the health service and no one will deny there are difficulties. It is, however, possible to exaggerate. I have lost count of the number of times during the last 20 years that I have heard spokesmen for the British Medical Association or the Royal College of Nursing declare that morale is at an all time low - the chairman of the BMA was at it again this week. Yet look around. We have more nurses and doctors -- and they are better paid -- than at any time in recent memory. The Sunderland Royal Hospital has new maternity, orthopaedic and operating facilities. Waiting lists have fallen dramatically and the quality of care is improving year by year. Yes, I know there are problems. There always will be in an organisation of such size and complexity as the NHS, but I do think we should keep a sense of proportion.
In passing, may I knock on the head one little myth that crops up from time to time. That of a North-South divide. The idea - assiduously peddled in papers like the Newcastle Journal - that somehow we horny handed sons of toil up here in the north are victims and that those mollycoddled, namby pambys in the south are living in clover. Oddly, when I am in London I read in the Evening Standard that Londoners are suffering because the government has diverted public spending to those feckless, good for nothing northerners. There are indeed stark divisions in our society in terms of wealth and opportunity, but these are not primarily north versus south. To a greater or lesser extent such a divide is a feature of life in every town and city in the country. I live near the centre of town. If you go to the end of my road and turn left, you will come within a few hundred yards to derelict houses that are boarded and unsaleable. If you turn right, you will come within a few hundred yards to houses that are on sale -- and selling - for £500,000 or more. Two classes of people, living within a mile of each other who dwell for all practical purposes on completely different planets and who may never meet. Breaking down this divide is the challenge that faces any civilised government, local or national.
I might add, lest we forget, that there are one or two important respects in which many of us in Sunderland are considerably better off than our southern counter-parts. The absurd growth in house prices means that anyone in Sunderland on a fixed pay scale - local government workers, teachers, policemen, doctors, even a member of parliament - is far less likely to be saddled with crippling mortgage repayments than his or her equivalent further south and may, as a result, be able to live far closer to his place of work instead of facing a lengthy, exhausting daily commute. We have another distinct advantage over our southern brethren. We live close to some of the most beautiful and uncrowded countryside in Britain. We live within a few miles of fine sandy beaches. Weardale, Teesdale and Tynedale are all accessible in less than an hour. We are two hours from the Lakes, an hour and a half from wilds of Northumberland and the Border country of Scotland, an hour from the North Yorkshire Moors. In twenty years of living here my family and I have rarely found it necessary to go on holiday more than about two hours drive from home.
I now turn to other issues affecting our quality of lives. First, policing. When I first came here there were parts of my constituency where the police only ventured in large raiding parties, glaring at the locals through the re-enforced windscreens of their transit vans. A steady stream of refugees from such areas passed through my surgeries, begging to be evacuated. Although there was a shortage of police officers on the ground there always seemed to be a surplus at headquarters. If you went to see the Chief Constable at Ponteland, your coat was likely to be taken by a superintendent and, while you were grateful to him, you did wonder whether there was something more useful he could be doing.
I am glad to say those days are over. The change began under John Stevens and continued under subsequent chief constables and under a succession of dedicated divisional commanders up to and including the present one, Chief Superintendent Dave Pryer. Today, in many parts of the city, we have police based in the community, engaging with the people they serve. That is as it should be. In some areas the efforts of the police are supplemented by Community Support Officers and I hope and believe they are working well together, although there have been teething troubles over bicycles and mobile phones which I hope will soon be resolved. Speaking personally, I want to see more policemen on bicycles and less racing around in cars festooned with the latest gadgetry, still less in helicopters. I appreciate there is a balance to be struck, but what my constituents suffer from is not sophisticated, organised crime, but low level, disorganised crime and that is what they want to see addressed. Establishing and maintaining the rule of law is a prerequisite for all other activity.
Which brings me to one of the greatest challenges we face and one where an enormous effort is under way: the struggle to make our city centre habitable again. As I think most people would now accept, the 1960s and '70s were not a very glorious era when it came to public buildings. Sunderland was no exception. We lost our Victorian town hall, the Grand Hotel and the quaint, if not exactly magnificent arcade, that ran between High Street West and St Thomas Street . In return we gained several hideous multi-storey car parks, a fume-filled cavern which we called a bus station and a shopping centre that in winter formed a giant wind tunnel down which shoppers had to walk bent double against the prevailing icy blast, dodging whirlpools of litter as they did so. At the same time, as our town centre drifted westwards, the east of the city fell into dereliction. A low point was reached with the opening of the Gateshead Metro Centre, itself a questionable planning decision which inflicted serious damage on high streets throughout the region. Suddenly shoppers had somewhere else to go and they fled in large numbers with the result that the Binns department store, which occupied both sides of Fawcett Street, promptly closed, leaving behind a corridor of boarded up windows along what should have been one of our main streets. That was the low point. It was also a wake up call. Our Civic leaders realised that they had to halt the slide and so they have. The last fifteen years has seen a veritable revolution in our city centre. Binns, or part of it, re-opened as the City library. The Bridges wind-tunnel was skilfully enclosed and became an all-weather shopping mall.
Heritage Lottery was persuaded to fund a makeover for our splendid, but neglected Mowbray Park and the museum to which a magnificent new winter garden was added. We succeeded in attracting a prestigious new department store, Debenham's, and by the skin of our teeth we have managed to hold on to the sole survivor, Joplings. And that was just the beginning. We have acquired, not without difficulty, a cinema. Although it is not the job of City councils to provide cinemas it is fair to say that without the energetic intervention of the local authority in assembling the site nothing would have happened.
We now have, long overdue some would say, a Metro connecting us to Tyneside and the airport, our fume-filled cavern of a bus station has been replaced by a light and airy transport interchange, as we must now call it. Frederick Street and Sunniside are in the process of being reborn. The Empire theatre is enjoying a new lease of life. There are pleasant walkways and cycle paths along both sides of the river and, oh wonder of wonders, slowly but surely people are starting to want to live in our city centre again.
Despite, however, the undoubted improvements to our city centre, we are by no means out of the woods. We must do more to challenge the image of our city as a place for recreational drinking and not a lot else. We need more people to patronise the Empire Theatre and our new cinema instead of driving to Boldon. There is still much work to be done rehabilitating High Street East and in the East End, although we've made a good start with the Corn Exchange, the Eagle workshops and the replacement of the Garths. The port presents a major challenge. But the trend is unmistakeable. Sunderland is on the up and I defy anyone, looking at the low point we reached fifteen years ago, to say that they could have predicted where we would be today. None of this has come about as a result of the efforts of any one man or institution and it would be invidious to try to name names. But I wish to pay tribute tonight to the efforts of all those in the public sector, the business community and elsewhere who have helped to bring our city back to life.
I wish to pay tribute, too, to the part played in the revival of our city by Peter Walls and his colleagues at the Sunderland Housing Group. Peter is a controversial figure. He has been known, just occasionally, to rub people up the wrong way. As he says himself, "I don't do subtle". He is, however, a man of vision with an unshakeable commitment to this city. Under the leadership of Peter and his colleague Stuart Allen, the Housing Group, through their off-shoot Emperor Management, have trod where the private sector would never dare go. Were it not for the willingness of Emperor to take the risk of making a substantial investment in fine buildings like the Old Post Office, the Athenaeum, and the magnificent former headquarters of Sunderland and South Shields Water Company might have continued gently to decay for many years to come, casting a blight on their surroundings.
Elsewhere in the City, the Housing Group has invested hugely in repairing and upgrading our housing stock. The backlog of repairs has been wiped out. In areas like Doxford Park, Pennywell and South Hylton they have begun building new homes, for sale and rent, of much higher quality than those replaced. The transition has not been easy. It has taken far longer than anticipated to assemble the sites. As a result many of my constituents have had to put up with several years of dereliction and uncertainty which has understandably led to frustration. I have never doubted that it will come right in the end, but it has been - and remains for some - a painful experience. I believe, however, that there is light at the end of the tunnel. As the pace of building increases and more tenants move into new homes, so more people will recognise the contribution that the Housing Group are making to the regeneration of this city. When we look back five years from now, I hope that that just about everyone will agree that it has been worthwhile.
Next, I want to acknowledge the important part played in the life of this city by the City of Sunderland College and the university. I think we can all agree that if this country is to compete in an increasingly ruthless global market we have to raise the level of aspiration and educational attainment. To that end the government has invested considerable effort, not to mention resources, increasing the numbers of young people going into higher education. The creation eleven years ago of the City of Sunderland College has opened up possibilities for a generation of young people (and some older folk) who might never previously have contemplated staying at school beyond the age of sixteen. Likewise, the university under the leadership of Vice Chancellor ,Peter Fidler, has gone out of its way to open its doors to local students of working class origin who could never otherwise have contemplated a university education. I celebrate the fact that in the space of twenty years what was once a polytechnic catering for less than 4,000 students has been transformed into a fully-fledged university, occupying a prime site on the river, catering for nearly four times that number, including many local people who are the first in their family to enjoy the benefits of higher education. The university has enriched the life of our city. Long may it prosper.
Before I go on to say a few words about the future, I want to refer to a recent development that is, I believe, symptomatic of the way Sunderland is going. That is the rebirth of music in this city. We had reached a point some years back where years of cuts in local authority budgets had all but killed off the teaching of music in local schools. Lately, there has been a sea change. A dedicated team of Council-funded music teachers once again provides a service for local schools, encouraging and nurturing pupils with talent and the results are beginning to be reflected in the cultural life of the city - in the City Sings, the annual contest for schools choirs which packs out the Empire theatre once a year; in our fledgling symphony orchestra run on a shoe-string by the brilliant and inspiring Rupert Hanson - if you haven't attended one of Rupert's concerts I urge you to do so. And a few months back I attended a wonderful performance of Noe's Fludde in the Minster, involving children from half a dozen local schools. It simply wouldn't have been possible a few years back. Yes, music is coming back to life. And so is Sunderland.
I turn now to the future. What will Sunderland look like 20 years from now? What are the challenges we face and how will we tackle them?
First, I hope we will carry on pursuing policies, locally and nationally, which erode the gulf between the prosperous and the less fortunate. Education, from the earliest age, is the key. Our aim should be to give every child the same chance in life whether they are born in Hendon or Ashbrooke, Southwick or Roker. Ignorance, passed from one generation to another, is what lies at the root of the shockingly low standards of personal health and behaviour that exist in some parts of this city. Ignorance must not be appeased. It must challenged at every opportunity.
We must also continue to challenge the culture of impunity that has grown up amongst some of our citizens. Bad behaviour must have consequences - for perpetrators, not just for victims. Tenancy agreements must be enforced. Graffiti must be removed - preferably by those who put it there. Litter - by those who drop it. Dog mess by those who own those who drop it. And for the able bodied, benefit must be seen, not as a way of life, but as a bridge to the world of work. We have made progress in all of these areas in recent years, but (as even the most incurable optimist would acknowledge) we still have some way to go.
Which brings me to rubbish. Sunderland and the north east lag behind the rest of the country when it comes to recycling. And the country as a whole lags behind most of Europe. This cannot go on. We cannot continue to dispose of our waste by dumping it in holes in the ground without storing up huge problems for ourselves in years to come. At present rates of disposal there are only enough landfill sites left to last us nine more years. Nine years. Well within the attention span of most people alive today. Locally, we must move as quickly as possible to the recycling of commercial waste and plastic. Nationally, we have to move to a system of producer responsibility. In Italy, if you buy a new fridge, the manufacturer is obliged to take the old one back and recycle it. That is how it should be here, not just for fridges, but for televisions, cars, computers, you name it. No doubt it will be painful for some, but it has to come. We cannot go on as we are without very serious consequences.
As regards, planning, the next few years should see the long awaited development of the former industrial sites along the river, in particular the Vaux site - so crucial to the city centre. It important that we see off Tesco, but I have to say I am not keen either on the proposals for a sort of Shanghai on Wearside that I have seen so far. I once heard Tom Macartney, the former chief executive of the ARC and a man of great vision, speak of death of or glory in relation to the Vaux site and I will say now what I said to him at the time: there has been rather a lot of death in Sunderland over the years and most of us would settle for something less than glory, but better than death. For my part, I have no objection to good contemporary architecture. I trust, however, that we will build something for which there is demand, that is proportionate to its surrounds, easily maintained and which does not have to be knocked down 30 years from now. I hope, too, that we shall see an end to the building on green fields on the periphery that has so sucked the lifeblood out of our city centre. And I look forward to the selective use of dynamite on some of the monstrous carbuncles with which previous generations of planners have seen fit to grace the city - starting with the spaceship (I believe its called the Verne Jones building) that landed sometime in the 1970s in the garden of that magnificent Gothic mansion, the Langham, on Ryhope Road - I notice someone has set it on fire recently…it wasn't me…honestly. After that we could perhaps move on to the 1960s extension to the School of Art in Backhouse Park. And then…well there's no shortage of candidates.
Finally, I wish to say a few words about the state of our democracy, in Sunderland and in the wider world. With rights come responsibilities. It is an unhappy feature of the times in which we live that many people have a highly developed sense of their rights, but no comparable sense of their responsibilities. One of the responsibilities of the citizen in a democracy is to participate in the democratic process. It is not very onerous, but it is a regrettable feature of modern life that a diminishing number of our citizens think it worth their while to exercise that right, let alone involve themselves in the democratic process in any meaningful way. In Sunderland currently, about a third of the electorate participate in local elections and a little over half in a general election - well down on 20 years ago. What is the cause of this decline? Is it entirely the fault of we poor, inadequate, despised politicians? Maybe, but it can't be the whole explanation.
Is it because, as one sometimes hears alleged, "all politicians are the same." I don't think so. In recent elections, local and national, the electorate have been offered an unprecedented range of choice, ranging from fascist to Green (and every shade in between), not to mention in Sunderland our very own Metric Martyr, and yet turn-outs have remained stubbornly low.
Is it because, under our first-past-the post system, the outcome is usually predictable? Perhaps, but even in predictable Sunderland, four council seats changed hands in last month's local elections; turn out in the more hotly contested wards was higher than average, but not remarkably so. Is it because people's lives have got worse? Manifestly, that is not the case. Look around you. There has been an unprecedented outbreak of new conservatories and gleaming new land cruisers in even the most unlikely areas of the city. Goodness, the Echo is even advertising second homes in southern Europe - inconceivable ten years ago. No, the decline of interest in the political process has coincided with an era of unprecedented prosperity.
Is it an absence of great issues? I don't think so. If anything, we have more to engage us than at any time since the rise of Hitler: namely, the survival of the planet. It is becoming increasingly clear for those with eyes to see that if we go on consuming the resources of the planet as if there is no tomorrow, then there will be no tomorrow. If that ain't a wake up call, I don't know what is.
Reflecting the general indifference, the political parties, too, are in decline, becoming increasingly dependent on donations from a handful of multi-millionaires some of whom have their own agenda. We live in an age where few people want to join a political party, no one wants to fund one and no one wants their taxes to be used for that purpose either. And yet we all want to live in a democracy. Or so we claim. Sooner or later something is going to have to give.
Should we be worried? I cannot make up my mind whether the malaise we are experiencing is a temporary blip or evidence of potentially terminal decline. Certainly, it is not unique to this country. It is happening across the developed world, though arguably it is more acute here. Nor is there any single explanation. The decline of public participation in politics coincides with a decline of just about all traditional organised activity - scouts, guides, churches, trade unions - and the growth of sedentary, solitary activity. There has to be more to life than computer games, multi-channel TV and shopping.
What is to be done? First, it is the job of politicians to demonstrate by both their personal and public behaviour that politics is an honourable profession and of relevance to the way we live our lives.
Second, I hope it is not too much to ask (but I fear it may be), that our voracious, 24-hour media use their enormous power responsibly? I am myself a journalist by profession, but I have to say I regard with dismay the relentless spread of tabloid culture into television and even into previously respectable broadsheet newspapers. Even the BBC news, certainly the earlier bulletins, is now read by shock-jocks who, instead of sitting at a table, reading from an autocue, wander around the studio, pouting and emoting. News with attitude, I believe it's called. Tabloid journalists see it as their function to keep their readers permanently cynical and indignant. They require a constant supply of victims. It doesn't matter whether they are misbehaving soap stars, footballers, politicians or even hapless ordinary citizens who can be chewed up and spat out for the entertainment of the mob. It is a poison that is polluting our culture.
Third, we must teach our children from an early age that democracy not is not a gift from God, to be taken for granted. It was won by our forebears, after a long period of struggle and, in this country at least, it is not yet 100 years old - women only got to vote on equal terms with men in 1930. The fruits of democracy are everywhere to be seen. It is the reason why when we - all of us, not just an elite -- turn on a tap in our bathroom water comes out. Why when we flick a switch we can be sure of electricity. Why the sick, the unemployed and the unlucky do not starve. Why all our elderly are looked after in old age. Why a British citizen can expect to live for twice as long as a Zimbabwean or a Congolese and one-third longer than a Russian. Why we can say or write what we like about our leaders without expecting a knock on the door from a policeman. Yes, democracy is imperfect. Yes, there is much to be done, but by heaven it's a darn sight better than the alternatives and in this age of instant communication one does not have to look far to see what the alternatives are. In one of my previous incarnations I was the Africa minister at the Foreign Office and I saw at first hand the terrible fate of ordinary citizens in countries where there exists no mechanism for influencing the behaviour of their rulers. Where lives that were once orderly spiralled into chaos and ruin. We see examples every night on our TV screens. Don't imagine it couldn't happen here. It could. Democracy should be cherished, nurtured, encouraged. If we don't use it, we will lose it. There are no shortage of forces - from global corporations to Islamist terrorists - trying to take it away from us. What a tragedy, if we were to lose it, not as a result of enemy action, but of our own indifference?
Friends, I hope that, 20 years from now, we will gather here to celebrate a period of progress similar to that we have just enjoyed…(who knows, it may even be the occasion for a lecture entitled 'My First Forty Years…') I hope we will find a City that is cleaner, greener, healthier, better educated, more tolerant and more racially and culturally diverse. As for me, I have immensely enjoyed the last 20 years. I thank the people of Sunderland South for having allowed me the privilege of representing them. I thank the local Labour Party for having allowed me to be their candidate. I thank the Editor of the Echo, Rob Lawson, for having sponsored tonight's event and Councillor Bob Symonds and the City Council for having made this chamber available. And I thank you all for attending.