7/7, 10 years on: Tessa Jowell's memorial lecture

On 7 July 2005, London was attacked by terrorists. Tessa Jowell's memorial lecture is below.

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It is an enormous privilege to have been invited to deliver the fourth 7/7 Tavistock Square Memorial Trust Lecture. This year we mark the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on London.

Now the families of more than 30 British holidaymakers in Sousse are beginning that same long journey of mourning and loss which the families of those London victims have been travelling ever since that dreadful morning.

I know that I speak for all of you in thanking the Tavistock Square Memorial Trust for the continuing and unerring support.

In the aftermath of the disaster I was privileged to be asked by the then Prime Minister to co-ordinate the government’s support and response to those who were bereaved on 7th July and the hundreds of survivors whose lives were changed forever on that day. I had undertaken a similar responsibility on behalf of the bereaved UK families after the 9/11 attack on New York.

To be Minister for Humanitarian Assistance was a quite different ministerial role through which I have built lasting friendships and relationships over a decade.

This evening we have come together to pay tribute to those who died, to their families and the injured and survivors of 7/7.

As we all know only too well, on the morning of Thursday 7 July 2005 three bombs were activated at around 8:50 a.m. on underground trains just outside Liverpool Street and Edgware Road stations, and on another travelling between King's Cross and Russell Square. An hour later, there was a fourth explosion on a double-decker bus here in Tavistock Square, where we meet this evening.

All together fifty two people lost their lives and nearly 800 were injured, many of them horribly.

Ten years since those attacks, we come here today to remember those we have lost, in solidarity with the bereaved, and to show our continuing support for those whose lives were shockingly changed forever by the bombs.

Each of you will have your memories of that terrible day. Many of your memories will be far more vivid and more painful than mine. 

But I will certainly never forget it – neither the day itself nor the days afterwards. I was in Singapore. We were celebrating having won the Olympic bid when my private secretary received a call from London to be told that there might have been a terrorist attack on the tube network.  

As the full scale of the atrocity became clear, those of us representing the UK in Singapore could think about just one thing. We had to get home.

I have still in my mind a kaleidoscope of images and sensations after my return the next day. The anguish etched on the faces I saw of the forensic teams working in the tube tunnels. The makeshift morgue at Angel. Bodies that had been terribly mutilated reassembled for the families in the chapel of rest.

I have learnt since that many Londoners had been surprised at how pleased and proud they had been when London won the Olympic bid.  It may be that our natural register is not boastful. We had not been viewed by the international sporting community as the favourites.  So we had not expected to win, and we were delighted by our own delight when we did so.  There was euphoria in the air. 

Ian McEwan wrote at the time: “After the victory in Singapore, Londoners were celebrating the prospect of...new energy and creativity; those computer-generated images of futuristic wonderlands rising out of derelict quarters and poisoned industrial wastelands were actually going to be built. The echoes of rock 'n' roll in Hyde Park and its wave of warm and fundamentally decent emotions were only just fading when the bombs went off”.

Many Londoners were struck by the contrast between the 6th July when we defied the odds to win the Olympics and the 7th July when the bombs exploded and so many hopes along with them.

24 hours later euphoria had given way to disaster, despair, gripping apprehension, unbearable anxiety.

The finality of lost lives for which there could be no preparation. 

 The despair of those maimed by the bombs whose lives and capabilities were changed forever.

Unspeakable worry and racing terror for those who could not contact friends and family.

The many acts of unsolicited kindness from those not directly affected.

“The mood of a city,” wrote Ian McEwan, “has never swung so sharply”.

The mobile network collapsed under the pressure. So many distressed calls for help, so many plaintive requests for reassurance went unanswered in the void. But then, for the lucky ones, the network was restored and the call came.

For some, though, the call did not come and never will. For some the connection will never be restored.

A decade on, the terrorist attacks seem every bit as cruel and as pointless as they did in 2005. How could those bombers conceivably have thought any moral or religious principles could justify their acts? How could they possibly have believed the world could become a better place as a result of their terror? 

Natural disaster and human negligence can have terrible consequences.  But the conscious deliberateness of terrorist attacks like this - and the dreadful events in Tunisia and around the world we have seen in recent days - makes them especially hard to bear.

And then there are insistent thoughts: Why us? Why my family? There is something unfathomable in the randomness of what happened on that day.

Any morning but that morning, breaking a routine was of no consequence.

That day it was the difference between being life saved and life lost.

Going into work earlier than usual, having a doctor’s appointment, deciding to work from home, taking a different route for a change.

Perhaps being in London for the day, for work, or for play.

And now going to Tunisia for a holiday rather than anywhere else.

Going to a beach or staying in one's room a little longer.

To be here rather than there.

To be alive or dead.

Murder on the beaches of Tunisia is as incomprehensible as on the transport network of London. Killers dream of tearing us apart while Londoners eat together on Brick Lane; they fantasise about religious wars while muslims break their fast in London synagogues; they imagine a city divided while all faiths march together at London Pride.

The people who died ten years ago are often reduced to their combined number. 52 people died in the attacks. But they were not just any 52 people.  They had lives.  Each one loving and each one loved – then, still and forever.   

And they had names. And their names were…

 

James Adams

Samantha Badham

Philip Beer

Anna Brandt

Ciaran Cassidy

Rachelle Chung For Yuen

Elizabeth Daplyn

Arthur Frederick

Karolina Gluck

Gamze Gunoral

Lee Harris

Ojara Ikeagwu

Emily Jenkins

Adrian Johnson

Helen Jones

Susan Levy

Shelley Mather

Mike Matsushita

James Mayes

Behnaz Mozakka

Mihaela Otto

Atique Sharifi

Ihab Slimane

Christian Small

Monika Suchocka

Mala Trivedi

Lee Baisden

Benedetta Ciacca

Richard Ellery

Richard Gray

Anne Moffat

Fiona Stevenson

Carrie Taylor

Michael Stanley Brewster

Jonathan Downey

David Foulkes

Colin Morley

Jennifer Nicholson

Laura Webb

Anthony Fatayi-Williams

Jamie Gordon

Giles Hart

Marie Hartley

Miriam Hyman

Shahara Islam

Neetu Jain

Sam Ly

Shyanuja Niroshini Parathasangary

Anat Rosenberg

Philip Russell

William Wise

and Gladys Wundowa

 

These were the people who died that day. 

So our thoughts today are with those who are here now and those who were left behind and with those in Tunisia whose pain you uniquely understand.

Our thoughts are with the parents and grandparents, wives and husbands, brothers and sisters, children and grandchildren.

Some of whom born in the years since and who, without ever knowing it, carry the love of the one who died, girlfriends and boyfriends, friends and colleagues.

From the euphoria of the day before to the desolation of 7 July, the people of London showed a resilience and a humanity to be proud of.

The people passing through London showed it, too. This city showed that it would not be cowed and would not be beaten.

We showed in the aftermath our essential humanity.

This is a city with the determination and ability to nurture the potential and realise the ambition of our young people, regardless of background. That was in part why we won the Olympic bid then and it is also why this city has withstood the tragedy, discovering a new resilient humanity as it has done so.

That optimistic account of London was one which the bombers hated. It celebrated openness, confidence in the future, and the best of human attitudes; it looked forward to a better future; it measured means against ends, showed how a great purpose could be achieved and joy and pride delivered.

It was a vision of our humanity.   

In their wicked madness the bombers presumably thought that they were doing something that would be a step towards creating a different city altogether.

Perhaps they thought they could set the government against the people, race against race, non-Muslims against Muslims, eroding trust and understanding.

Of course, they failed; they failed utterly.

Ken Livingstone, who was such an exemplary leader as Mayor of London, found just the right words.

He said: “In the days that follow look at our airports, our sea ports and look at our railway stations and even after your cowardly attack you will see that people from the rest of Britain, people from around the world will arrive in London to become Londoners, to fulfil their dreams and achieve their potential.

They choose to come to London, as so many have come before, because they come to be free, they come to live the life they choose, they come to be able to be themselves. They flee you because you tell them how they should live. They don’t want that and nothing you do, however many of us you kill will stop that flight to our city where freedom is strong and where people can live in harmony with one another”.

This city has always has been a cradle of tolerance and in countless acts of selflessness and support, Londoners came together as if to renew our city's resilient humanity. 

Think of the way victims of the attacks looked after one another, helping each other to safety.

Of the person who stayed with a victim at Edgware Road, so that the dying man would know that his family would at least have the comfort of knowing  that the person they loved had not died alone.

Think of the heroic efforts of rescue teams and doctors and nurses and the individual acts of kindness of businesses, public servants and strangers on the street. 

Londoners signed books of condolences, attended services, stood in silence.

Though the tragedy happened here, the response and the grieving was not confined to Londoners. We were joined by the rest of Britain and much of the world.

Just as today we feel bound to those suffering in Tunisia.

All over Europe, in the United States and around the world, the bombings were marked and commemorated. The world joined us as one in sympathy as they will do again next week.

We are bound here in remembrance of those who died but we also can remember the juxtaposition of the exhilarating and, for most, unexpected winning of the 2012 Olympics in Singapore and the 22 young people from East London who were such wonderful ambassadors representing the open diversity of this city.

Indeed that very diversity symbolised the defiant resilience that followed.

I can never think of one event without the other. They are forever intertwined in my memory.

Then, seven years later, came a beautiful moment when that spirit was recreated but this time to joyful effect.

I thought about 7th July again and again during those golden weeks of the Olympic and Paralympic Games when the sun seemed to shine on everything we wanted this country to be.

I thought about 7th July especially during the 2 minutes silence at Danny Boyle’s brilliant opening ceremony.  I saw the forward-looking, expansive, optimistic vision of Britain that the opening ceremony represented and I thought again that this was something the bombers and their supporters would have hated - all those nations, with their different views, their different cultures, their different traditions, coming together in a spirit of peace and play.

So it was a deeply civilised thing that we did in those marvellous two weeks in the summer of 2012. It was a triumphant embodiment of the spirit that won us the Olympics and embodied too the values that saw us through the bombings.   

This city, this country, this people are a model of resilience.

This is a characteristic that we can trace back a long way in our history.

In 2005 we were commemorating the 60 years that had passed since the end of World War II.  This year we marked the 70 year anniversary. 

The last German bombs fell on London in March 1945.  The Blitz Spirit has so often been invoked that it has become a cliché.  Look behind the cliché, though, and you find that the story is an extraordinary one, with tragic echoes down the years.

Bombs were always central to Hitler’s plans to defeat Britain, and London was his principal target. Hitler thought that if he could break London’s spirit, the rest of the country would quickly collapse.

Many at home feared that Hitler might be right. Bertrand Russell, writing in 1936, predicted that air warfare would reduce London to ‘one vast raving bedlam, the hospitals will be stormed, the traffic will cease, the homeless will shriek for peace, the city will be pandemonium’.

The British authorities assumed, according to Philip Ziegler, in his book, London at War, and I quote: ‘the first raids would generate mass panic and probably widespread and destructive rioting.”

How they underestimated the people of their own capital.

Instead of looting and rioting the people organised civil defence, staffed by volunteers who were not prepared to yield to a murderous assault. 

Shortly before she died last year at the age of 95 my mother reminisced with me about her work as a nurse at the Middlesex Hospital during the war.

The most striking thing was that it never occurred to her not to be there doing her bit throughout the blitz. She and thousands of other Londoners.

“Doing her bit”. It is people doing just that which makes for a resilient city. The humanity of a resilient city. The people of London understood quickly what was at stake. They understood that if you give way to an attack of that kind then, in due course, everything you hold dear about the freedoms you enjoy is in jeopardy. 

It is an intellectual as well as a physical assault. Hitler under-estimated London’s resilience. So did the authorities at the time. And so did the bombers ten years ago.

This is the character of our city. This is its enduring humanity on show.

London is a city made up of many villages. Its economy is diverse. It has many centres of power - political and economic. It has a rich civil society. It is the site for so many individual stories, so many different ways of life.

The built London is a source of resilience. But so too is its social capital.

It is relatively easy to conquer an open plain. A battleship, an airplane or an airport - all are vulnerable to being taken.

A city, though, is a complex web made up of thousands upon thousands of streets, homes and workplaces.  The resilience is multiplied by the number of citizens who inhabit these streets and believe that it is vital to defend them.

London was once described as “an ungovernable city”.

It is certainly many things in one.

It began, in Roman times and grew in the Middle Ages as a as a walled city.  But London broke out of its wall long ago. And over time towns, and villages merged into each other …. Walls have one great disadvantage. Once they are breached the city is defeated.  London, though, was not contained by its walls. It soon began to build beyond the city walls.

Towns and villages in the city’s vicinity, above all the city of Westminster and what we now call the City with a capital C, grew and developed.

In time all these separate settlements joined up, but London remains, to this day, a metropolis with many centres.

There are still parts which retain the feel of a distinct village. It has 5 cathedrals and 33 local government boroughs. This unique model of local government proved itself in the days after the bombings.

Let me describe in more detail what I mean by resilience, in practical terms.

Building adaptability to change and challenge must be done with empathy.

I am not just talking about contingency planning, about being braced for attack.

“Doing your bit” is a phrase developers would do well to dwell on.

Empathy extends to the built environment – how new parts of our city are designed, how they fit with existing communities. So often ‘development’ is seen as destructive of community.

We need to keep a wide vision, looking at more than what immediately meets the eye, thinking empathically about how what is done affects the people all around.

Just look at the way the Olympic park was developed. The idea was not just to transform the waterlogged and contaminated brownfield site into a glorious Olympic park but also to bind a community together, to help develop its capacity, to tighten and strengthen its bonds.

Technical systems, flood warnings, fire, police and intelligence services keep us safe, but they are at their most effective when their roots are deep in the communities which they serve, and when they are deployed with empathy. 

That is what builds the capacity to withstand shocks, to adapt to the unforeseen event. Systems rely on community or, as Jane Jacobs would observe, “eyes on the street”.

When I think of the city, I am reminded of Orwell’s beautiful image of the photograph on the mantelpiece of oneself as a young child.

What, asks Orwell, do you have in common with that lost image, which looks so different to you now, other than that you happen to be the same person?

A city flows through time like a river.

You never step into the same city twice and yet you still know it somehow as the same place.

For some of you, I know, the river froze ten years ago.

The way we organise against disaster is, of course, the practical embodiment, however expressed in the dry bureaucratic language of public policy, of the resilience of the city.

But resilience is also written deep into the public realm of a great city like London, and no city has a richer or more varied public realm than London.

Glorious public spaces - parks where people meet as equals; galleries run in the public interest by trustees rather than under the control of the Government.

The writer John Lanchester has pointed out that the last bomb exploded on a street which in many ways captures what is special about London – its diversity and individuality.

That street runs from The Thames to Hampstead in a straight line.  But on that journey north through the city it has some 13 names.  It begins as Kingsway, then becomes Southampton Row, Russell Square, Woburn Place, Tavistock Square – where the bomb went off and where we are this evening - Upper Woburn Place, Evershot Street, Camden High Street, Chalk Farm Road, Haverstock Hill, Roslyn Hill and finally Hampstead High Street. 

It contains so many stories, so many memories, so many references to places and things past and present, so many multitudes of the living and of the dead.

Resilience is rooted in optimism. Behind the strength to stand firm lies the feeling that tomorrow will be better than today.

Resilience relies on a commitment to our way of life but also the feeling that life can improve.

Progress is not an illusion even in the darkest of hours.

 

Writing the day after the bombings Ian McEwan quoted WH Auden’s great poem, Musee des Beaux Arts in which life goes on, oblivious to the tragedy within sight. It goes as follows:

 

"About suffering they were never wrong,

The old Masters: how well they understood

Its human position: how it takes place

While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;"

 

But this did not happen at all in London. The city did not walk dully along at all; people did not turn away from what had happened. It rallied with a fierce determination not to be turned from its nature as an open and welcoming city.

The story of London on and after 7 July 2005, despite the pain and the anguish which will never abate, is a more optimistic story than that. People stopped to help. We mourned together. It changed us, and in some ways for the better.

I want to end by looking for some fragments of optimism amid this terrible suffering.

I think there are three dimensions to how we have changed for the better and I want to touch briefly on each.

Banal as it may sound and to begin with we have learned a great deal about emergency planning. The readiness that we hope will never be required.

The response of the authorities on 7 July was in many ways superb. People knew their roles, which was hugely helped by a long history of exercises to familiarise them with what to do if called on.

The immediate response of London Underground staff was heroic and exemplary. The successful evacuation procedure showed both the fruits of dedicated training and individual courage that is humbling.

London Buses reacted quickly and effectively, withdrawing services from central London but keeping the service running elsewhere.

The response of the emergency services was rapid and effective and 1200 hospital beds were made ready in three hours.

Coroners, police, local authorities, pathologists and the London Resilience Team delivered a ‘Resilience Mortuary’ ready to receive deceased victims in 24 hours. A Disaster Fund Plan was implemented and worked efficiently.

 

The London Bombings Relief Charitable Fund raised £11.5m in all, made its first payments within two weeks of the bombings, and had paid out £10.5m by 6 July 2006.

Delicacy is not always a quality you would associate with statutory bodies but it was something that, slowly, they learnt.

The National Resilience Capabilities Programme brings together all the infrastructure needs in the wake of a disaster.

There are Local Resilience Forums and emergency preparedness guidelines published by the Cabinet Office.

However, it is not good enough just to react when disaster strikes. We learned a decade ago that you need this capacity all the time.

Some serious weaknesses were revealed. The telecommunications system was not able to cope.  This caused serious difficulties for the London Ambulance Service.

We learned of the need for non-emergency hospitals near an incident to be briefed.

We learned, in particular, that family assistance needed to be better. In all catastrophes there is a so-called “golden hour”, the immediate moments after the first impact, and how victims are treated at that point is crucial.

People were wandering around London and there was a sense of chaos and fear.

People didn’t know where their relatives were, didn’t know if they were safe. At one point 40,000 people were reported missing.

We need to learn more about the importance of communication in the aftermath of a tragedy. People need information. They need somewhere they can go for help. Resilience comes through foresight and anticipation.

It underpins public confidence that prepared public services will continue through the maelstrom.

That public strength helps to unlock the private resilience of individuals and communities.

Then that support needs to be turned into a long-term commitment. Pain of this kind is not like a hurdle you scale. It is a stain that may fade over time but it is always visible when you care to look.

This commitment means many things but one thing on which I have always tried to insist is that the families should be involved in the design and planning of any memorial or commemoration.

The memorial in Hyde Park, the 52 pillars, one for every victim of the bombs, by Carmordy Groake was cast in rough textured stainless steel, the pillars are grouped in four interlinking clusters reflecting the four incidents, each one bearing an inscription of the day and time that the cluster stands for.

 

The names of those who died were left off to suggest the random nature of the attack, that it was indiscriminate.

However, the names of the victims are listed on a separate plaque. The families were fully involved in the commissioning and development and invited to the forging of the relevant pillar.

Since it was dedicated in 2009, the memorial has become the annual gathering point for families and survivors as it will again next week.

In the years since, many of you have, in an inspiring and generous way, have found your own private way of translating your love for the person you lost into practical help for others across the world.

For example, the Miriam Hyman Memorial Trust has funded the Miriam Hyman Children's Eye Care Centre in Odisha, one of the poorest states in India.

The James Mayes Award established by his parents Bernard and Rosemary Mayes was set up to improve innovation and research in health and social care.

Julie Nicholson, who wrote her inspiring tribute to her daughter - A Song for Jenny - which has been turned into a film to be shown on the BBC at 9pm on the 5th July.

And many others.

Secondly, we were confronted by the brutal effect of extremism. Whether we will ever understand enough and whether the resilient city will ever create immunity from murderous impact is not clear. No remembering will be enough that does not include an attempt to understand how the 7/7 outrage could have happened. And in indeed today what drove a young fanatic in Tunisia?

In Aldgate, in Edgware Road, underground between King’s Cross and Russell Square and in Tavistock Square, four young men carried out acts that nobody who knew them would have thought possible.

Those men left their homes that morning expecting never to return.

Two of them left families and small children behind.

It is important not to confuse criminal acts with religious conviction, even when the crimes come wrapped in religious material.

The danger comes from any belief system which is closed, which provides to its believer the single answer to everything, whose adherents can’t stand outside their system to ask themselves the question, “Is what I am doing in the cause I believe in actually right? Is it morally justifiable?”

Socrates got to the heart of it when he posed this dilemma: if goodness is what a god wills, does the goodness arise from the divine willing or does the willing respond to the goodness?

You can never trust a system which prevents its adherents asking that question.

Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon examines exactly that issue – but its setting is the Stalinist purges of the 1930s. In it, the interests of the Party trump all other considerations.

Our job is, accordingly, to ensure that belief never becomes fanaticism, that the open moral question can always be asked.

And a multifarious, open and tolerant city like London is just the kind of place where that open moral question can always be asked.

So resilience is also about being steely in the protection of the value of openness.

We need to ensure that we do not allow the conditions in which young people can turn to terrorism to develop here in London or any other city.

We know from the riots of 2011 that the decency and civility which normally prevail are not a solid, impermeable layer.

The qualities of resilient humanity which enable a city like London to deal with 7/7 are threatened when the quality of life of a few are won at the expense of the many; that is what risks creating those pools of deprivation in which fanaticism thrives.

Frustration, greed, bitterness, violence and hatred - these breed there too. They are the fuel which powers the fanaticism of those few who lap up the deadly simplicities of false religionists and ideologues.

Terrorism is a cancer which grows within society, not outside it. Those involved may be a tiny number, but we know what mayhem just one person can create.

There can be no resilience in a city that is atomised. A city that does not create a space for all its people will not be resilient. A city racked by crime will not be resilient. A city of preventable health inequality will not be resilient.

A city which does not provide life chances for its people will not be resilient.

A city in which the quality of life of a few are won at the expense of the many will lose its resilience.

When I was the Minister for Humanitarian Assistance after 9/11 I heard the Queen read from The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder: “There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning”.  

On that day a decade ago, London showed that it understood that meaning. A capacity for selfless humanity which is now part of this city’s renewed identity, as much a part of its heart as the spirit of the Blitz.

I have been proud of this city and of its people many times in my life but never as much as on 7/7, not even seven years later, when it became the envy of the world, in that glorious summer as we hosted the Olympic Games.

There has never been a better exhibition of the tolerance, diversity and openness which makes this city what it is than that great festival of sport, nor anything to gainsay more emphatically the deadly message of the bombs.

Finally, we know that there is nothing that any terrorist can do which will make us turn away from a way of life we love in this magnificent, most visited city in the world.

The bombs brought fire and death; but I recall that one of the Olympic symbols is a torch. That was the fire which lit London three years ago, which London will carry forever, and in whose flickering light the names of those who died will live for evermore.

Thank you.

Tessa Jowell was MP for Dulwich and West Norwood 1992 to 2015, Secretary of State for Culture from 2001 to 2007, and minister for the Olympics from 2007 to 2010. She is a Labour peer.