Jack Straw on Why We Should Love Condi...
LATER this week I will be coming to your city with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
I wanted to take this opportunity to thank Liverpool for hosting this high profile visit and explain why I am bringing Secretary Rice to the area.
Secretary Rice is without doubt one of the most powerful people in the world. She is also a human being, the product of her race, her religion, her background.
That came home to me - bang between the eyes - when she and I were answering questions at her first overseas press conference after becoming US Secretary of State, my equivalent in the US government, in January last year.
We were in the Foreign Office, answering questions about foreign policy. One was about the apparently slow pace of change towards democracy in Iraq (and elsewhere in the Middle East).
Secretary Rice was going through an answer about the difficulties of establishing democracy. Then suddenly there was a brief pause, a distinctly different tone of voice, as she said: "Listen. When the Founding Fathers [of the United States] said: "We, the people", they didn't mean me."
It was a striking moment. In a millisecond, we had moved from Condoleezza Rice the world states-person to Condoleezza Rice the human being.
She is brilliant, a former head of a world-class university (Stanford, California) in her early forties, speaks fluent Russian, writes books, plays the piano to concert standards - the works.
But Condoleezza Rice is also black. And if you were black, and brought up in Alabama - at the time one of the most racist states - and your father and his pals had to take their shotguns to man vigilante barricades to prevent the houses being torched by racist thugs in league with an equally racist police; and then one of your friends is one of four little girls who gets murdered by more racist thugs who blow up her Sunday school, then you don't forget you are black, nor that blacks in America had no rights to speak of, and certainly not the right to vote, not just when America was founded in 1782 but in the latter half of the 20th century.
Above all, you never forget that in the land of the free your great-great-grandfathers and great-great-grandmothers were slaves.
I was so moved by Secretary Rice's story that she invited me to see her home town.
Huge new hi-tech investment, everyone with the right to vote, a multi-racial council, and police chief who is a black woman.
So when I invited Secretary Rice back to the UK for a return visit, there was no debate in my mind as to the two places she should come to - Blackburn and Liverpool..
My Blackburn constituency used to be the weaving centre of the world, shipping in cotton picked by slaves in the deep south of the USA and then exporting the finished product around the world. And at the heart of this trade, of these connections, was Liverpool. A world class city with an extraordinary past - a testament both to the best of human endeavour in its imagination, its fine buildings, the courage of its sailors, and the worst, in its reliance too on the slave trade: and like Birmingham, Alabama, a big city enjoying a renaissance.
It is the final point which was central to my decision. Liverpool's past will be a big part of our visit, as will the city's cultural diversity. But they do not fully explain why I decided to bring Secretary Rice to the city.
What also struck me was the hope of the future. Out of the decline of what had been a great industrial past has come a new era of hope. When we visit the Albert Dock we will see a symbol of Liverpool's renaissance.
I am delighted that through the visit the eyes of the world will be on Liverpool and that your success story will be seen by so many more people.
I appreciate that there are some in Liverpool who were opposed to the Iraq war and other issues and who want to make their feelings known during our visit. Peaceful protest is a proper part of democracy. I fully respect the views of those with whom I may disagree.
The visit will have many benefits for the UK as a whole. But just as importantly, I am sure our visit will bring many benefits for Liverpool.
We will be followed by the world's media, so it is certainly a great chance to showcase your city ahead of what promises to be an exciting European Capital of Culture year in 2008.
And I know that the city's business leaders see the visit as a golden opportunity to highlight the area as an attractive destination for investment.
So, I wanted to thank you in advance for your hospitality. If there is one thing above all that Liverpool is known for, it is for the warmth of its welcome. I'm looking forward to experiencing it again.
the Rt Hon Jack Straw, MP
Actually, we think Jack might be moonlighting for these guys...
Meanwhile, back in the real world, there is another piece in the echo tonight, with the Lib Dem Council leader Warren Bradley and another loyal local MP George Howarth warning us not to make Condi feel unwelcome.
They were speaking at a House of Commons reception giving an update on Liverpool's 2008 plans.
Mr Howarth, MP for Knowsley North and Sefton East, said he hoped Dr Rice's weekend visit to Liverpool would "not be a bitter and unwelcoming experience".
Cllr Bradley said: "I shall be supporting her in Liverpool."
Earlier Mr Howarth, the presiding MP at the function, said: "The right to protest is sacred.
"What I hope people don't do is say the secretary of state is not welcome. I hope any protest will not hamper her visit."
Cllr Bradley, who will be handing a private letter to Ms Rice outlining the council's opposition to the Iraq war, said he would make his feelings known in private.
But he added: "There is a time and place to make protest."
Indeed there is a time and a place to make protest Cllr Bradley, the time is 5.30pm on Friday March 31st, and the place is the Catholic Cathedral, Mount Pleasant, Liverpool.