OPINION: Mike Freer’s decision is a dire warning for our nation

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OPINION: Mike Freer’s decision is a dire warning for our nation

Russell Langer, the JLC's director of public affairs, on what the resignation of the current MP for Finchley and Golders Green at the upcoming general election means for democracy

Mike Freer (centre) at a Mitzvah Day event.
Mike Freer (centre) at a Mitzvah Day event.

The news that Mike Freer MP will be resigning his seat at the upcoming general election is sad for our country and our democracy.

In his letter, Mr Freer referenced various incidents which have threatened his personal safety and made clear that it is the effect this has on his husband and wider family which influenced his decision noting that, “sadly the serious incidents place intolerable stress on them too.”

Mr Freer doesn’t exaggerate the risk he is under as MP for Finchley and Golders Green. In 2021, Ali Harbi Ali carried out reconnaissance on a location where he was due to hold a constituency surgery.

A last-minute change of plans meant Mr Freer wasn’t there on the day Ali visited. A month later, Ali would go on to murder Sir David Amess MP in his Southend constituency. In court, Ali directly referenced Sir David’s membership of Conservative Friends of Israel as a “big problem”.

In the aftermath of Sir David’s murder, MPs met to pay tributes to the veteran backbencher. Then Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, “we will never allow those who commit acts of evil to triumph over the democracy and the Parliament that Sir David Amess loved so much”.

Russell Langer, the JLC’s director of public affairs

Opposition Leader Sir Keir Starmer added, “our response must always be to show that we will never be cowed, that our bonds to one another can never be eroded, that the hatred that took Sir David’s life will never win.”

Following Mike Freer’s resignation, I’m left wondering if these words are hollow. Those of us who regularly engage with public officials have been told countless times since October 7th about the growing abuse and intimidation they are subjected to.

Those who have defended Israel’s right to defend itself, have criticised Hamas’ barbarity, and have stood with Jewish people against antisemitism, have been targeted. Indeed, even those who aren’t seen to be anti-Israel enough are not safe from onslaught.

As long as this continues, there are three immediate responses available to MPs. The first is to heed the words of the former Prime Minister and Sir Keir Starmer to not be cowed.

To double down on taking the course of action which they believe is in the best interests of our nation despite the personal danger associated. These MPs – which I hope are a majority – recognise the danger of violent extremism but know that our democracy fails if we give in to it.

The second option is to do what Mr Freer has done. None of us can, nor should, judge him for standing down and I’m sure many would do the same if faced with a similar situation.

The third option is the one which concerns me most and it is the most difficult to identify. These are the MPs who would prefer to take a position in line with their beliefs but, maybe even subconsciously, have shifted their public positions to stay out of the spotlight and avoid potential adverse reactions. This is the real threat to our democracy.

Of course, there is a fourth path. MPs are anything but powerless. If our system of law and order is failing their personal safety, then they are the very people with both the power and responsibility to change that system. This isn’t without its own challenges but that is the job we have elected them to do.

In our system of representative democracy, it is entirely right that MPs hear from their constituents and this includes when there are disagreements. However, our system is built on the principle that MPs are our representatives and not our delegates. We elect them to be more informed than us and empower them to make decisions on our behalf. They are ultimately accountable for their actions at the ballot box, not through abuse, intimidation, or violence.

The political journalist Isabel Hardman writes in detail about why our system often puts off people from entering politics in here book “Why we get the wrong politicians”. Reflecting on the murder of Jo Cox MP and the fears serving MPs have for the safety of their family members, she notes, “next time we ask why we get the wrong politicians, perhaps we should ask why any of the right ones want to put themselves in this kind of danger”.

As we approach a general election, I find myself wondering, why do any of the ‘right ones’ who would stand with Israel and the Jewish community want to put themselves in this type of danger? Thankfully, many are still committed to active public service despite the risks but we can and should never take that for granted.

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