Conservative Home

« Donal Blaney: Remember it's a long ball game | Main | Paul Goodman MP: Wycombe, the Muslim community, and the battle of ideas »

Graeme Brown: MPs should lead, as well as listen


Graeme Brown was the Conservative Candidate for Ashton-under-Lyne in last year's General Election.

As someone who was born and grew up in Burnley, I always keep a look out for Kitty Ussher, the new Labour MP for the town, and was eager to read her article in the New Statesman last week. Kitty begins her article by describing her visit to a Muslim friend in Burnley who asked her, "Why are you allowing our people to die?" Her friend was referring to the conflict in Lebanon between Israel and Hezbollah.  Kitty then discusses how she responded to her friend's question, and she expresses her views on the conflict between Hezbollah and Israel.

She organised a public meeting in Burnley to allow her constituents to discuss the situation in the Middle East. In the conclusion to her article, Kitty repeats a question which was put to her at the public meeting, "Why is it that Muslim blood is seen as cheaper than Christian or Jewish blood?"

It is of course part of an MP's job to listen to and represent to the government and the media the views of their constituents. It is also an MP's job to explain the views of their government, especially when they are a member of the governing party, to their constituents. Her article, and one assumes therefore, her discussions with her constituents, takes an extraordinarily narrow view, both of the Prime Minister's foreign policy, of who died during the conflict in Lebanon and Israel, and what is at stake in the Middle East.

Kitty's article suggests that the only people who suffered during the fighting were Muslims. Did she not explain to her friend and her constituents that everyone who lives in Lebanon and Israel suffered during the fighting, and that the longer the fighting went on, the longer everyone living in the region would continue to suffer? Did Kitty explain the tactics Hezbollah were using? Did she explain their use of ordinary civilian homes as rocket launch sites, their use of civilians as human shields? Did she explain that Hezbollah started the conflict by kidnapping Israeli soldiers from Israeli territory?

Did she attempt to challenge the view that she says some Muslims hold that the government is "using foreign policy to persecute those of their religion"? Did she remind them that this is the same Prime Minister who she claimed, "thought it was OK for Muslims to keep dying", who took enormous political risks alongside President Clinton to intervene, and save thousands of Muslim lives in Kosovo in 1999?

Did Kitty explain that Hezbollah's (and Iran's) stated aim is the destruction of Israel and the removal of all Jews from the Middle East? Did she explain that the Israeli government, because it feels its very existence as a nation is under threat, is desperate to disarm Hezbollah, something the UN has failed to do in the 2 years since UN resolution 1559 was passed calling for the disarming of all militia forces inside Lebanon.

Did she explain to her friend the wider issues that the Prime Minister believes are at stake beyond the resolution of the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah? That this is not just the latest instalment of the Arab-Israeli conflict. That it is about the long-term future of the whole of the Middle East. That if Hezbollah and Iran are seen to triumph, and Israel is weakened, great harm will be done to those Muslims in the Middle East who seek the same freedoms that Muslims enjoy in the UK.

In light of the arrests last week of more than 20 British Muslims allegedly involved in a plot to blow up transatlantic flights, all elected politicians have a responsibility not just to state clearly that disagreement with, and anger over the government's foreign policy never can be an excuse for terrorism, but also to engage in debate within their community and if necessary refute misconceptions about the government's foreign policy that their constituents may have.

An MP's job is not just to give an airing to the views of some of their constituents, however much they respect those views. It is also to lead, to explain to their community why their government is taking the stand that it is. By not doing this, Kitty has missed an opportunity to persuade the Muslim community that the government's foreign policy does not value Muslim lives any less than Christian or Jewish lives, but wants to ensure that the moderate Islam practiced by the overwhelming majority of Muslims in the UK and around the world, is allowed to flourish, rather than the intolerant, illiberal, fundamentalist Islam favoured by the government of Iran, Al Qaeda and Hezbollah.


You must be logged in using Intense Debate, Wordpress, Twitter or Facebook to comment.