Are there things you know, that we couldn't know, but if we did know, maybe we'd think better of our leaders?
That was the question I put to Eliza Manningham-Buller, the former head of MI5, at an event I hosted in Manchester in 2012. Given she'd been on duty and in charge during the 7/7 bombings in London in 2005 and we were discussing leadership it seemed a fair question to ask. It's at the forefront of all our minds now.
I'll admit this, I am terrorised. I shouldn't be, I can rationalise the numbers. And I'll sign up to any amount of "not afraid" pledges. I genuinely wasn't afraid when I lived in London through the early 90s. You just accepted it. Maybe I was younger and more reckless, but you always sensed the IRA usually intended to make life inconvenient and uncomfortable. That somehow the coded warnings would get us out of danger in time. That's how it felt. The deeper sense of fear and anger started when I made a trip up to watch Russia v Germany at Old Trafford during the Euro 96 Championships. That was the day when I heard a large boom in the distance - it was the IRA blowing up a big part of Manchester city centre. Warning or not, it made me angry and scared.
Three years later, while I was on constant standby for the birth of my first son, London was hit by bombings in three different spots - two of which were regular haunts, Soho and Brick Lane. The fourth target, before the maniac was stopped, was to have been Stamford Hill, the large Jewish area close to where I lived.
On September the 10th 2001 I looked around the Capitol building in Washington DC, visited Arlington Cemetery and gazed over in awe at the Pentagon building. Without illusions, but with great pride I enjoyed a few days steeped in the best traditions of a multi-cultural democracy. I flew home from Dulles Airport where I may well have been within feet of the murderous crew who hours later were flying the hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 to Los Angeles into the Pentagon.
On the 7th of July 2005, my sister's birthday, I awoke to the awful news that London was under attack. I later found myself on a train from Manchester Piccadilly to Cardiff Central that day, both stations were closed due to security alerts, no coded warnings, no tactical avoidance of loss of life.
I mention those days of clammy mortal fear and anger, not just as a personal recollection, but to explain that I am terrorised. And that my pride for our society, how we congregate freely and how we celebrate diversity, universal human rights and the pursuit of love, however flawed, is who we are.
The London bombs were the work of Nazi nail bomber David Copeland. No one tried to say we were "reaping the whirlwind" of a society that was alienating him and turning him into what he was. Or that there was any basis to his justification that he was fighting the degeneracy encouraged by the Zionist Occupation Government. He is a murdering arsehole who deserves to rot in jail and so should the authors of the brainwashing garbage that turned him.
Likewise, I have no time for mealy-mouthed moral relativism over terrorism, militant Islam and guilt about the West or that we "had it coming".
After the Paris attacks I did a painful and emotional review of the Saturday papers for the BBC Radio Manchester, amongst the guests we disagreed about whether this was relevant to local radio. I argued that it was. I could only conclude that being who we are, living as we do, is why they hate us. Why those people in Paris eating in an ethnic restaurant, watching football and going to a concert is an affront to a murderous death cult. It's who we are. I'm proud of who we are.
And so it has been proved. Kids attending a concert at the Manchester Arena. Kids who attend my wife's school, classmates of my sons, with their parents, friends of ours. We still don't know who's made it home.
So, to come back to the point about leaders and what they know and how they react. I was fairly appalled by a paralysed George W Bush in the aftermath of 911 and impressed by Mayor Giuliani. Eliza Manningham-Buller confirmed I was right to be impressed by Tony Blair on all those occasions in London as well as all the threats we didn't get to hear about.
I work for the leader of an institute of learning. We have our part to play. Our city has leader in Sir Richard Leese, who has led the city through a healing process before. And we now have a city region Mayor, Andy Burnham, for whom this is a shocking first test of his courage. At first sight he has provided strong words of comfort and leadership. "This is going to be a hard and difficult time that will test every ounce of that strength," he said, adding: "We are grieving today, but we are strong. Today it will be business as usual, as far as possible in our great city."
It all comes back to a point Eliza made three and half years ago in answer to my question - leadership is not about command and control, but vision and strategy. "You must be honest about difficulties, but demonstrate your confidence in the future and in your people."
That is quite some yardstick by which to measure our present leaders, is it not?Suggest a correction