The Iraq War is having effects on a broad front close to home as well as abroad. The greatest effect is clearly on friends and families of the armed forces fighting in the theatre of war itself but a politician’s job is to continue to represent his or her constituents on a variety of issues, some seemingly trivial, throughout the times of conflict.
It has not proved as easy as I had expected. Being the MP for the central area of London my mailbag prior to the declaration of war was full of predominantly anti messages critical about the stance of both the government and my own Conservative Party.
Now the pleas have turned from anxiety about the prospect of military action to cries of help about the retail trading situation here in central London. Demonstrations are now weekly occurrences in the West End, often disrupting Oxford Street, Regent Street, Piccadilly and the Strand. With the Central Line out of action for a long time and the middle of London awash with thousands of people on the crucial Saturday shopping day, trade associations in Oxford Street, Soho, Covent Garden and the surrounding districts are crying out for help. Their plight has been made worse by the Congestion Tax, which makes Saturday an even more crucial retail day.
Indeed for the small quality store shopkeeper the congestion charge has been a nightmare. On the other hand the sellers of fast food or bottled water are enjoying boom times at the weekends with the demonstrators roaming the streets of central London. Revenue for the major stores is being severely reduced because the demonstrations, though mainly non-violent and policed extremely well, have led to a catastrophic reduction in the numbers of tourists and visitors coming into the West End at weekends.
The impact on my constituents, both residents and businesspeople, has been dramatic. Despite writing many letters and speaking up in parliament requesting that the Home Office and Metropolitan Police help in bringing some control to the level of demonstrations at this time the importance of allowing peaceful protests in this country holds sway. And rightly so, but there needs to be a balance between the right to protest and the legitimate right of retailers to carry out their trade.
What is happening in Iraq is the most critical event in the world today. This nation, quite properly, is totally involved with its progress and its outcome. But there is constant noise and pain for my constituents in central London and this country must not lose its focus on the importance of keeping our economy buoyant. Not just because the global economy is facing a sharp slowdown but also because we here in the UK will be required to fund part of the rebuilding of Iraq once the fighting stops.
The demonstrators, while protesting for the cessation of hostilities now, could have a long term negative effect on the ability of London’s economy to help fund the reparation of Iraq’s failed financial and economic system through years of misrule by Saddam Hussein.
Remember on May 1 when anti-globalisation demonstrators take to the streets of London in yet another protest that, without a thriving business culture here in London, we will not have the resource to play our part in rebuilding Iraq for the benefit of all its citizens rather than only those in the thrall of Saddam Hussein.