I consider myself a liberal Conservative and I therefore instinctively bridle at suggestions of curtailing individual freedoms, which have been won and retained at great cost. However, occasionally freedoms can be abused and it is right to keep their status under review.
David Davies MP (not that one, the other one!) is proposing an amendment in the House of Commons that would give the armed forces the same protection from abusive and hateful protest that is enjoyed by religious and racial groups. He has taken the wording of legislation that forbids religious hatred and changed the wording to refer to the armed forces.
Some of my Conservative colleagues don’t support this move but I do. I served in the Falklands with the RAF and I visited Iraq on two occasions after the second Gulf War. I have known people who died in both countries and have seen the stress that serving there can cause to both the servicemen and their families. It is no exaggeration to say that some people have never fully recovered from their service in conflict zones. That is a burden that they and their families have to bear. Whilst individuals chose to join the forces they do not chose where they serve. Any protest therefore should be against the politicians that decide what the armed forces do and not the soldiers themselves.
The Government has rightly (in my view) encouraged homecoming parades and the greater wearing of military uniform in public. With that comes the need to protect individuals from the small minority of extremists that would wish to target them. Whilst I accept that they are a minority, a small number of Muslim extremists in Luton recently hurled abuse and held banners claiming that the Army were murderers for their actions in Iraq. These are the same soldiers that would have been engaged in reconstruction efforts in Iraq and peacekeeping around Basra.
Ironically a few decent people who were outraged at the Muslim protest were arrested under the same religious hatred legislation that David Davies seeks to mimic. I am not sure that David Davies’ amendment is the right way to achieve his aim but I do congratulate him on finding a way to highlight the issue and the hypocrisy of those who abuse the armed forces whilst sheltering behind the protection of religious hatred legislation.