Not since the days of the IRA in the 1990s has a Member of the UK Parliament been killed simply for having an opinion and doing their job. That’s what happened on the streets of Birstall, West Yorkshire where Jo Cox MP was shot and stabbed in the street by one of her constituents.
The man who has been charged for her murder is clearly mentally ill answering ‘death to traitors, freedom for Britain’ when asked to give his name at Westminster’s Magistrates Court.
Those who have chosen to make political gain out this tragic event and somehow link Mrs Cox’s murder to those on the right who believe we should Brexit should hang their heads in shame. You know who you are. As shown by the Prime Minister, Jeremy Corbyn and other political opponents standing side by side this event is way above politics, it is about the loss of a wife, mother, daughter and sister.
Although quite rightly the focus has been on Jo Cox, her achievements and popular character, this event has also called into question the safety of our Members of Parliament, who during most of the week are protected by the armed police at Westminster but return to the libraries, offices and community centres in their constituencies completely unprotected.
Let’s face it most people go to see their MP because they have a grievance and many Members of Parliament have since come out to say they have repeatedly felt unsafe, been threatened, had to call the police and on occasion stalked. There was also the case of Stephen Timms MP who a female constituent in reaction to the Iraq War stabbed six years ago. Many do not even schedule appointments and therefore have no idea who is walking through the door but even if you have a name how do you protect against people intent to walk in a cause you harm? Stoically, many MP’s have said that they do not want to put up barriers to the democratic process and distance themselves from the people they are elected to represent but safety is paramount and would be changed in any other job, so why not them.
Social media has added an even greater arena for stress and threats, Stella Creasy MP who campaigned for women to be on the new bank notes, and Jess Phillips MP who did not support the idea of International Men’s Day were both trolled and threatened with rape and violence. Oh how brave the anonymous voices on Twitter can be. Many politicians and public figures alike are abandoning social media platforms because it is simply not worth the abuse that they receive. I am sure that was not what the founders of Facebook and Twitter had in mind when they created them.
Trust and respect for politicians, not just in Britain but also across the world, is at an all time low, people are even supporting people like Donald Trump because they are not from the political classes. At home, there can be no doubt that the expenses scandal tarred all politicians with the same greedy brush and nearly two years of negative campaigning starting with the Scottish Referendum has turned people off politics, politicians and the point of voting.
Some have said that the positive, work with anyone, can-do nature of Jo Cox will mean a better more respectful style of politics emerges, whereby the arguments are about the different view you hold not personal about who you are. I think if this can happen it will add to the legacy of a bright, rising star that clearly had much more to offer and will never get the chance.