Westminister Comment - ‘Je suis Charlie’ a symbol of support

“Je suis Charlie” has become the symbol of support for free expression. No matter how offensive a cartoon is it does not justify violence of any kind let alone the murderous attacks we saw in Paris.

The millions taking to the street expressing their opposition to the murders was a symbolic gesture that, hopefully, will reinforce the case for continued free expression. Of course, just because you have the right to free expression does not mean you have to cause offence, but violence should not be allowed to encourage self-censorship.

It will be important that lessons are learned about how the attackers planned their murders and how they armed themselves. Storming targets with guns has become a style of threat that has replaced the use of explosives. It is important that other countries can learn any lessons the French security services have picked up.

For all the big issues at stake this is a very human tragedy where families and friends have lost loved ones. We should not forget their personal suffering at this time.

Meanwhile, back at home, the decision to invade Iraq is back in the news as people question why the report of the Chilcot Enquiry into the Iraq war has yet to be published. Having personally voted against the war I would be interested to see clearly set out how the decision was made.

Those named in the report have the right to question any conclusions involving them before the report can be made public. The main cause of the delay was the time taken to set up the inquiry in the first place.

Given that the Government of the day was supported by the then official opposition with some exceptions on both sides it is not surprising that an early enquiry was not established.

As well as leading to instability in the region the focus on Iraq took vital resources away from a nowhere near completed task in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden was still on the run. Yet according to sources in Sandy Gall’s book “War Against the Taliban” US satellite surveillance was switched from the mountains of Afghanistan to prepare the way for the invasion of Iraq.

We had a legitimate reason to be in Afghanistan and yet we failed to make full use of the early goodwill when the Taliban regime was removed from power. Time was precious and yet it was squandered in pursuit of unjustified war in Iraq.

In both conflicts we have seen great bravery and professionalism by our armed and civilian services operating in a very challenging environment. Their commitment must not be forgotten.

The New Year has got off to a stormy start as depression after depression sweeps in from the Atlantic.

It is at times like this that we appreciate the commitment of our rescue services and the engineers that turnout to repair our vital infrastructure. They have certainly faced testing times.

Meanwhile the price of oil continues to dip down putting further pressure on jobs and businesses in the North East. Oil prices have always eventually risen again after a fall, but it takes time.

It is important that companies remember the best way to meet the underlying skill shortage that will hit them when the price recovers is to keep as many of those skilled people on their books during this downturn.

While there are still some big finds to develop we will only get the full potential from what remains to be developed if we can make the small pockets economic to exploit.

One of the ways to do that is to continue to maintain the network of larger platforms and pipes that already exist.