by Jim Murphy
The armed forces are based on individual acts of courage working in skilled unity for the sake of national security. Each sacrifice is an individual lost, a family mourning and a nation wounded by the personal patriotism of those that serve. It is not only right but essential that we meaningfully recognise and commemorate those who lose their lives in the line of duty. That is why today my colleague Hilary Benn and I are writing to every council leader in Britain to urge that they offer families the chance to name local streets after their fallen loved ones.
On a recent visit to Barking and Dagenham I was told of a scheme where the council offers families the opportunity to choose a street or local location to be named in memory of a loved one lost while serving. In consultation with the family and local residents the location and precise name of a road or street is decided upon. The council also offers to organise an official opening ceremony, to which members of the community, family and friends as well as service charities could be invited. Two locations in the Borough have been named in this way and a third family has recently also chosen to do so.
A lasting personal memorial of this kind can demonstrate the value we place on those who have been lost in the defence of our country. They will of course always be remembered by their families, but changing a community’s physical environment would be a chance for their names to live publicly and forever. While this is a personal issue it is also right, should the families choose it, that we enable communities to show sensitive solidarity and sympathy to those who lose their lives in service.
Rather than wait until Labour is in government, we wanted to urge councils to take this step now. The forthcoming end of combat operations in Afghanistan does not mean an end to our forces being asked to act upon the responsibilities we have beyond our borders – Libya and Mali are testament to that. Their role will be enduring, as should our efforts to seek meaningful commemorations. Labour is out of office, but not without power, and we hope this move could spur a collective, cross-party resolve in favour of street naming.
At the start of each defence debate in the House of Commons the bi-partisan commitment to national security and defence policy is often reasserted. Labour’s support in principle for government decisions to deploy forces is always matched by scrutiny. But providing the highest levels of care and support for the service community needs to be a national effort, delivered by communities, councils, business and government together. That is why we worked with the DWP to roll out nationally Labour’s Veterans Interview Programme, where employers offer guaranteed interviews to veterans or increased job support. Major employers including Greggs, o2, John Lewis and Aldi are on board and we hope others will follow. We have campaigned for a “Veterans’ Champion” in every local authority, regardless of political control, which would be a single individual with responsibility for veterans so those who return to the frontline can access services and entitlements. We also support the government’s Community Covenant scheme, aiming to bring local people closer to the service families and veterans they live amongst but can be distanced from.
Naming streets after fallen heroes can be one of many ways to lastingly and respectfully commemorate fallen service personnel. It must be part of a cultural change which puts the armed forces covenant at the heart of our communities. That is something to which Labour is committed in opposition and would remain so in government.
Jim Murphy is the Labour MP for East Renfrewshire and shadow secretary of state for defence