As I write this, the issue uppermost in most people’s minds is the global refugee crisis.
Both the UK and Blackpool have a long, proud tradition of helping those most in need – Blackpool having welcomed Polish migrants in the 1940s, Hungarians in the 1950s, and Kosovans in the 1990s.
The current focus is on people in Calais, and people fleeing Syria. But the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees states that at the end of 2014, there were almost 20 million people, or an average of 42,500 people per day forced to leave their homes and seek protection elsewhere.
Syria is of course not the only nation in crisis – the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Palestine, Eritrea, Mali, Afghanistan, Iraq and the Yemen – to name but a few all have displaced peoples who are in desperate need.
But for now, the presenting issue is Syria.
The Prime Minister has committed to taking 20,000 Syrian refugees. I am meeting with the Shadow Home Secretary tomorrow, with the Home Office Security Minister next week, and have been having conversations with local government leaders from across the UK over the past fortnight.
I have also spoken with colleagues at the council, constituents, friends and others, as well as keeping one eye on how the media is reporting the crisis. As in any situation, opinions vary – but generally speaking people are overwhelmingly positive about the idea of us helping out in any way we can.
Of course there are those who feel that “charity should begin at home” and that we should “sort our own problems out first” and I try to understand that view. Blackpool has huge problems, which we are striving to address – but we cannot isolate ourselves from the rest of the world.
We must accept that – however bad our problems may be locally – these people who are fleeing Syria are infinitely worse off than we are – almost all of us have food enough to eat, shelter and warmth – they have nothing.
Given the thousands of (often very troubled) people from within the UK who turn up in Blackpool every year, with little more than the shirt on their back, I think we can find it within our hearts and wallets, to take just a handful more.
So, we will be working hard over the coming days and weeks to work out a plan for how could meet the housing, health, education and other needs of refugees, to try and ensure that they feel welcomed, and a valued part of our community.
I am confident that the people of Blackpool will play their part in this effort, and that (aside from the dozen or so people whom I already know will send me hate mail for daring to suggest we might welcome a few refugees from far-flung shores), we will offer them a welcome which reflects Blackpool’s world famous reputation for hospitality, and our basic human instinct to protect those less fortunate than ourselves.