Last week I welcomed the first public meeting of West Midlands Together, which was held on the Warwick campus. West Midlands Together was founded as a cross-party campaign by Neena Gill and Anthea McIntyre, (both Members of the European Parliament for the West Midlands) to combat hatred and intolerance and promote social harmony in the wake of the EU referendum vote, in one of Britain's most vibrant and diverse regions.
The event was attended by a great range of people, including community leaders, local councillors, representatives from business, the Police and Crime Commissioner for the West Midlands, and the District Crown Prosecutor.
I hope that our University, Warwick, is a place where we can debate, listen, find solutions together. Warwick is ranked the 17th most international university in the world by the Times Higher Education. This is a fantastic symbol of our success – that we are inclusive, open, supporting the best to be the best. It is a culture I’m proud of being part of, and inspired to engage in and to nurture this safe environment for study and research. But since the EU referendum last summer, we have seen an increase across our region in reported incidents of hate crime to a level we have not seen before. However people voted in the EU referendum, I am sure that not one of us voted for this worrying outbreak of hate being faced by members of communities on the basis of their race, culture, gender, sexual orientation or religious or social beliefs.
In one of the many, many articles written after the Westminster attack last week, a piece in the Daily Telegraph said we should deny the terrorists the disproportionate reaction they seek from us. Many interpreted this as a call to action from Government. But it is more than that. It is a call to action for each and every one of us. What can we do, as employers, public bodies, universities, community leaders, parents, individuals, to actively seek to stop hatred and to promote unity? West Midlands Together is one such positive example of taking action. Each of us must add our own individual effort to always challenge each prejudiced comment and every action that seeks to offend and to strive to find ways that unite rather than divide.
The West Midlands Together event came at the end of what was a shocking week for all of us following the Westminster attack. Those who perversely took the EU referendum result as a signal to spew more words and actions of hate and intolerance may sadly take the imminent triggering of Article 50 as further encouragement. This is a key moment for us to work to renew our determination to demonstrate our unity and our sense of community.