The cold blooded murder of Jo Cox MP is still raw and there is a lot more to be written over the coming weeks about various aspects of this terrible event.
Strangely on a day like today politics can be ‘at its best’. We have already seen MPs from across the House of Commons have expressing their mutual respect for Jo and the Tories have already indicated they won’t even contest the by-election that will have to be held to find her successor (although even talking about this today does seem a little too hasty). The cross party consensus at times like this is genuine. MPs from all sides of the House can ba and are often genuine friends. I have many genuine friends on ALL sides of the Commons .
I always knew there was a’another’ Birstall. I was brought up in Birstall Leicestershire.. And knew some of our post often got lost head in to a Birstall in Leeds. I hadn’t heard about this village for some time – until the headlines yesterday about an “MP and Birstall” being heard in the same sentence. It sent shivers through my spine.
The suspension of campaigning by both the Remain and Leave campaigns again feels to hit the right tone. I am sure most if us have no stomach for doing politics. It s especially welcome as the tone and nature of the BREXIT campaign had become extremely hostile and frightening. But I am sure there will be much more of this and the causes of Jo Cox’s attacker motives in the coming days as more information becomes available.
Attention also turned today to the ‘security’ of MPs and their safety. I am really pleased to see the calmest voices in this debate have been my former colleagues who have given a measured response to the threat of violence they face and put it into context.
A key part of our democracy has been the strength of the constituency link where MPs, live work and socialise in their constituencies. As Jo demonstrated representing your own area has a special meaning too as I discovered as an MP for my home town for 13 years. Every day of this extraordinary life is spent with your old school friends, sporting team mates and people you socialise with and go to church with. Mixing in these circles means a good local MP in ‘in touch’ with the mood of their 70,000 constituents. It seems in a short time Jo Cox had perfected that aspect of the job as well as making a massive impact in Westminster.
As key role in the constituency will always remain the ‘surgery’ – the ability of any constituent to meet their MP to raise an issue or have their casework taken up. In my 13 years we undertook 22,000 pieces of ‘casework’ on behalf of constituents and still the Tank You letters I received remain the pride and joy of my time as an MP.
I held my surgeries in my Loughborough office, and at key local community centres around the constituency on a regular rotation basis – Shepshed Town council offices, Sileby Parish Council and Catholic Community centre, Barrow Methodist Church, The Ashby Road Hut, Hathern village hall, and The Ramada hotel for example. It would have been impossible and undesirable to have security measures at these venues. We did have advice from the police after the attack on Lib Dem MP Nigel Jones by a constituent with a Samurai sword, where his caseworker was killed.
We did have a range of known constituents who did give us cause for concern and mental health issues usually made some of these people difficult to gauge their behaviour. I had to turn one person out of a surgery who became abusive, threatening and increasingly racist. I had to refuse pan appointment for one individual unhappy at his rejection of a shotgun licence. It was an individual who had shot at my father when attending his farm as an electrician many years before. Local knowledge and police advice was of benefit that week. But I can count on one hand the number of semi-dangerous and abusive constituents. I knew them by name. The other 21,990 were polite and appreciative.
I even used to do some ‘Roving surgeries’ where I would attend a particular area of an estate – leafleting a few days in advance to say I would be round and then calling on he houses of people who said they would like to meet. In Hindsight this may now be seen as a little dangerous but again I would hate to see this murder stop this sort of openness and accessibility of MPs.
I have also been impressed by the outpouring of grief from constituents in Birstall and the constituency. However, I am at the same time not surprised. You see most MPs love their constituencies and came into politics for the right reason – despite the lazy reporting and simplistic view that they are ‘all in it for themselves’. This is why whenever anything like this happens everybody says they liked their MP and how ‘down to earth’ they were. Well of course – because the majority of MPs are actually like this!
It does seem as though Jo Cox was very special and especially loved locally. For this she deserves extra credit. She does seem to have won the Hearts of her constituents in her all too short career. I hope as a consequence very little changes in the level of access to MPs. But the online Abuse, death and rape threats that many female MPs receive now have to be taken seriously and not simply brushed off as part of the job and just part of social media. The denigration of MPs as somehow beyond contempt by some political commentators and media has to stop – as does the name calling type of politics we have seen in this referendum campaign.
This tragedy was enough to stop ‘politics’ temporarily. I trust and pray it will stop this creep towards nasty politics forever.