Mike Freer’s resignation should be a wake up call for us all

Nobody should ever feel pushed out of politics due to safety fears

February 01, 2024 12:47

Mike Freer’s decision not to re-stand for Parliament in Finchley and Golders Green - citing safety concerns for him and his husband - must be a moment of reckoning for us all.
Sadly, he is not alone in his anxiety.
This week in Camden, where I used to be a councillor, a rag-tag band protesters continually disrupted the council meeting, throwing shoes into the chamber.
Ostensibly, they were protesting about Gaza, and calling for funding to be restored to the under-fire UNRWA.
Perhaps they did not notice that local authorities have no power over international affairs and that budgets are so stretched that local bin collections might reasonably have to take precedence over paying the salaries of alleged terrorists thousands of miles away.
They were cheered on by a baying mob outside the Town Hall and then online for days afterwards.
Particular venom was expressed towards Hijab-wearing Muslim councillors, who actually are very supportive of the Palestinians, but because of their preference for sober discussion over hooliganism, are now being targeted too.
Over the last months, I have spoken to a number of MPs from different parties whose teams are under terrible strain because of continuing protests outside their offices.
These are mostly peaceful, but some have turned violent and seen vandalism. Some MPs have had threats made against their families.
After the murders of Jo Cox and David Amess, we are only too aware that it only takes one person to take these things too far.
Our democracy will not survive if those who fail to win the argument by force of reason, turn to forms of violence and intimidation, subverting legitimate criticism.
Of course, protest is an important and integral part of our democratic culture. But there are limits when it is not the persuasiveness of the protest, but a resort to actual or implied violence, that becomes the main tactic.
Nobody should ever feel pushed out of politics due to safety fears. Democracy is fragile, and we must stand up to the bigots and bullies who seek to subvert it.
It is time to look again at the Public Order Act and policing powers. We may need to impose harsher penalties for actions or incitement to disrupt the political process. There should surely be greater enforcement of exclusion zones around MPs’ offices.
Perhaps we should pay for increased security for MPs, and maybe even some higher-profile councillors. Yes, it will be expensive. But the cost of losing our liberty will be far greater.
In the meantime, I am sure that I am not alone in wanting to thank Mike Freer for his service to our community, and to the country at large. He has been a real mensch.

Phil Rosenberg is the former Director of Public Affairs at the Board of Deputies of British Jews. He previously served as a Labour councillor in the London Borough of Camden.

February 01, 2024 12:47

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