I wrote this last night before the reshuffle started! I’ll follow up on that in due course. Danny
The best and worst of Britain was on display this weekend. I argued in advance that the pro-Palestine march should not be allowed to go ahead on Armistice Day. For weeks we have had the blatant display of anti-Semitism on our streets - banners and chants openly calling for the destruction of the Jewish state - by people who also, it is apparent, hate the West and its values.
The fact that some otherwise decent people who don’t hate the West (or not to the point of saying so), including those who simply sympathise with the terrible plight of the Palestinians, lent their moral weight to these extremists by marching alongside them, is something they must explain; it doesn’t make the marches OK, any more than some nice conservatives and ordinary patriots marching alongside the thugs who came to counter-protest would have made their demonstration OK. The relative proportions don’t matter: both march and counter-march were a bad idea for 11 November.
Yet we also saw this weekend the best of our country. I attended the Remembrance Sunday service yesterday at Ludgershall, in the company of the Mayor, the Deputy Lord Lieutenant, the Town Council, around 300 men and women in the khaki uniform of 26 Engineer Regiment, and some hundreds of local people. As ever I felt honoured to be there, laying a wreath in the heart of the district where over the centuries so many soldiers and their families have lived; a living community which restores one’s faith in humanity and in our country.
This month I have spoken in the House on prisons (see here) and on childcare (see here). I raised concerns about the Workers Protection Bill (see here) and about the Government’s attitude to the unexplained excess death rate we have had since Covid (see here - the video captures the cheers from the public gallery supporting my intervention; not a usual occurrence).
Among the usual visits to businesses, charities and schools two from this week stand out. The Waight family has farmed around Enford for seven generations, since before the MOD acquired Salisbury Plain for its training area. On Friday James Waight took me high on the Plain to watch a herd of cows grazing with no fence in sight. Each animal had dangling from a chain around its neck what looked like a plastic Swiss cowbell; it was a GPS tracker, which emits a warning noise if the cow gets too close to a line drawn on a digital map around the area the farmer wants them in. Sure enough the cows never stray, and the Waights can respond easily to the Army’s frequent requests to move the herd to make way for their exercises. As we stood there, disconcertingly close and loud were the bangs and rattle of the guns of Op Interflex - the allied training programme for Ukrainian soldiers.
That afternoon I was on the scaffolding around the roof of Chisbury Chapel. Built in the 13th century on the site of an old iron age hill fort by some well-to-do lord of the manor to save his tenants the journey to church in Great Bedwyn, the chapel has just been re-roofed thanks to English Heritage and local thatchers Benjamin Thompson and Martin Dyamott. As no doubt you can tell from this photo they use the traditional ‘longstraw’ method, rather than the modern tricks involved in ‘combed wheat’ thatching. These are the things you learn as an MP.
The moment of this week I will never forget was standing outside Pewsey fire station as Mark Hillier’s coffin was borne out on a fire engine. Mark was killed in a road collision last month as he went to answer a call-out, leaving a young family and a community in grief. The street was lined with hundreds of silent firefighters, helmets at their feet, and the local public. We can never properly express our gratitude to the people who go towards danger on our behalf, or our sympathy for their families and friends; and so we develop rituals of presence and silence to convey what we feel, and want them to know.
Sometimes Britain’s streets are places of rage and confrontation. Sometimes, as in Pewsey and Ludgershall last week, they are what we sang on Sunday: ways of gentleness, and paths of peace.