BY Southend West MP Anna Firth.
HOLOCAUST Memorial Day is a time to remember the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis.
We also pause to remember other, more recent, appalling genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.
This year as I took part in a tree planting ceremony in Ridgeway and then attended a memorial service at the Civic Centre, my thoughts turned to recent events in the middle east.
Each year we pause and say to ourselves, this must never happen again. We must never allow such hatred and violence to threaten any one group of people. And yet, following the horrific events in Israel on October 7 last year, we are once again witnessing violence and death on a massive scale.
The reaction to the ensuing conflict in Gaza has spread way beyond that region. We’ve seen countless marches and protests on the streets of London and in other cities as some people call for a ceasefire, and others for Israel to exercise its right to defend itself.
It’s distressing to note that incidents of antisemitism and anti-Islamic behaviour have increased and that people from both sides of the argument no longer feel safe. This is not how it should be in the United Kingdom.
We should remember on Holocaust Memorial Day that we are all citizens of this country. While it’s a natural reaction to feel sympathy for the terrible human suffering on both sides of the conflict in the middle east, we should not allow it to affect the basic good manners, citizenship and neighbourliness that make our country so great.
Respecting the right of others to freely practice religion here in the UK is a mark of our civility. To lose sight of that in a polarised fight between different factions can only lead to disunity, chaos and the dangerous ‘othering’ of people. We must guard against this at all costs.
On a lighter note, January presented the opportunity to invite some of my constituents to the House of Commons to join me for various events. I held a dinner for the Essex Chambers of Commerce, where members enjoyed an evening with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the Rt Hon Laura Trott. They quizzed her on the forthcoming budget and shared observations and concerns regarding the need for investment for strategic infrastructure for Essex.
I was also delighted that Victoria and Jared Goodwin from Southend were able to come to the Commons to see Prime Minister’s Questions from the gallery and to enjoy a tour of the Parliamentary Estate.
Another excellent Southend cause was represented in Parliament when Southend’s Sam Duckworth of the Music Venue Trust came to lobby ministers to help support grassroots music venues.
We were joined by Dame Caroline Dinenage, Chair of the DCMS (Department for Culture Media and Sport) Select Committee who came to lend her support for various ideas put forward by Sam to help fund local music venues to stop them from going under.
Southend also hit the headlines when the Prime Minister and Home Secretary came to town to find out more about the recently discovered rare clam beds in the estuary. Rishi Sunak enjoyed a tour of local businesses and fisheries where he sampled some of our delicious fresh seafood, while James Cleverly spoke to local police about continuing to drive down crime.
My personal highlight from the past month was the successful Second Reading of my Pet Abduction Bill, which flew through the Commons with cross-party support.
I’ve been campaigning hard to make dog and cat abduction a specific offence with harsher sentences for pet thieves, so it was with great joy that I witnessed the success of this stage of the Bill.
I was joined in Parliament by local missing pet campaigners ‘Tilly’s Angels’ along with representatives from the Pet Theft Alliance, the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, Cats Protection, the Dogs Trust, Battersea Cats and Dogs Home and Refuge and Pet Theft Awareness, all of whom have provided invaluable insight on the Bill. I now look forward to the Bill progressing through Committee stage.
As you know, when I was elected I made it my mission to continue the legacy of Sir David Amess who cared so much about animal welfare. So I jumped at the chance to meet with Queen guitarist and musical legend, Brian May, when he came to the Commons to hold a meeting for his ‘Save Me’ trust.
Brian May is a long-time campaigner against illegal fox-hunting and badger culling. so I was pleased to be able to add my support to something which Sir David would have wholeheartedly approved.
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