Why I'm boycotting parliament's Thatcher tribute

Towns like Rotherham have still not recovered from Thatcher's destruction of industry, says Labour MP Sarah Champion. Today's tribute is an inappropriately partisan use of parliament.

I would like to express my sympathy to the friends and relatives of Margaret Thatcher for their loss. My decision not to attend parliament today is not about disrespecting the woman, it is simply because I do not feel it is an appropriate use of parliamentary time. Personally, I feel that the Labour frontbench should attend to show their respect. Ed Miliband should read out a statement of condolence and that should be it. Otherwise, the Labour backbenchers that attend are placed in an impossible position. Do they praise a woman who attacked the foundations of our society, or do they use the platform to criticise her policies and be seen as disrespectful?

I moved to South Yorkshire in 1989. The area had been torn apart by Thatcher’s determination to break the trade unions over the miners' strike using vicious siege tactics. Recession, astronomical interest rates and her drive to break up state-owned industry hammered the steel industry into submission. Coal and steel were the principal industrial employers for Rotherham. Whole villages were reliant on their success and growth to prosper themselves. What Thatcher never seemed to understand was the importance of community and the integral role employers play within that. By destroying the coal mines, she ripped families apart and destroyed people's identities and self-esteem. Thirty years on we have still not recovered from that, and, to be honest, I don’t know if we ever will.

There is no way as the MP for Rotherham, as someone who went on the poll tax rallies, as a child that never became milk monitor, I could justify going down to Parliament today. I am not a hypocrite. It is an inappropriately partisan use of parliament and my time is much better used serving my constituents. I am actually speaking at a Community Union conference, and I appreciate the irony!

A card is left with flowers outside the central London home of Margaret Thatcher following her death. Photograph: Getty Images.

Sarah Champion is Labour MP for Rotherham

European People's Party via Creative Commons
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Ansbach puts Europe's bravest politician under pressure

Angela Merkel must respond to a series of tragedies and criticisms of her refugee policy. 

Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, is supposed to be on holiday. Two separate attacks have put an end to that. The first, a mass shooting in Munich, was at first widely believed to be a terrorist attack, but later turned out to be the actions of a loner obsessed with US high school shootings. The second, where a man blew himself up in the town of Ansbach, caused less physical damage - three were seriously injured, but none killed. Nevertheless, this event may prove to affect even more people's lives. Because that man had come to Germany claiming to be a Syrian refugee. 

The attack came hours after a Syrian refugee murdered a pregnant Polish woman, a co-woker in a snack bar, in Reutlingen. All eyes will now be on Merkel who, more than any other European politician, is held responsible for Syrian refugees in Europe.

In 2015, when other European states were erecting barriers to keep out the million migrants and refugees marching north, Merkel kept Germany's borders open. The country has resettled 41,899 Syrians since 2013, according to the UNHCR, of which 20,067 came on humanitarian grounds and 21,832 through private sponsorship. That is twice as much as the UK has pledged to resettle by 2020. The actual number of Syrians in Germany is far higher - 90 per cent of the 102,400 Syrians applying for EU asylum in the first quarter of 2016 were registered there. 

Merkel is the bravest of Europe's politicians. Contrary to some assertions on the right, she did not invent the refugee crisis. Five years of brutal war in Syria did that. Merkel was simply the first of the continent's most prominent leaders to stop ignoring it. If Germany had not absorbed so many refugees, they would still be in central Europe and the Balkans, and we would be seeing even more pictures of starved children in informal camps than we do today. 

Equally, the problems facing Merkel now are not hers alone. These are the problems facing all of Europe's major states, whether or not they recognise them. 

Take the failed Syrian asylum seeker of Ansbach (his application was rejected but he could not be deported back to a warzone). In Germany, his application could at least be considered, and rejected. Europe as a whole has not invested in the processing centres required to determine who is a Syrian civilian, who might be a Syrian combatant and who is simply taking advantage of the black market in Syrian passports to masquerade as a refugee. 

Secondly, there is the subject of trauma. The Munich shooter appears to have had no links to Islamic State or Syria, but his act underlines the fact you do not need a grand political narrative to inflict hurt on others. Syrians who have experienced unspeakable violence either in their homeland or en route to Europe are left psychologically damaged. That is not to suggest they will turn to violence. But it is still safer to offer such people therapy than leave them to drift around Europe, unmonitored and unsupported, as other countries seem willing to do. 

Third, there is the question of lawlessness. Syrians have been blamed for everything from the Cologne attacks in January to creeping Islamist radicalisation. But apart from the fact that these reports can turn out to be overblown (two of the 58 men arrested over Cologne were Syrians), it is unclear what the alternative would be. Policies that force Syrians underground have already greatly empowered Europe's network of human traffickers and thugs.

So far, Merkel seems to be standing her ground. Her home affairs spokesman, Stephan Mayer, told the BBC that Germany had room to improve on its asylum policy, but stressed each attack was different. 

He said: "Horrible things take place in Syria. And it is the biggest humanitarian catastrophe, so it is completely wrong to blame Angela Merkel, or her refugee policies, for these incidents." Many will do, all the same.