Sunday, 19 June 2016

Its taken a tragedy to remind us that politicians are people too.

Last week on the streets of Birstall, a market town in West Yorkshire Jo Cox the Labour MP for Batley and Spen was murdered by a 52 year old 'loner' named Thomas Maier.

Mrs Cox entered parliament in 2015 and in a little over a year had managed to make a lasting impression on her colleagues and constituents. In other circumstances were the Labour Party to some day emerge from its endless internal squabbles she could have been one of the people it turned to in search of a new, more positive direction.

The tributes to her were as prompt as they were heartfelt. A day after her death Prime Minister David Cameron and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn travelled to Birstall to lay a wreath in her memory.

Speaking to the BBC Mr Cameron called the murder of Jo Cox an 'attack on democracy', it has been suggested that Maier held far right views and was angered by her support of the 'Remain' campaign. He added that if people wanted to 'honour' Jo Cox's memory they should recognise the values of 'service, community and tolerance' she had lived and worked by.

Mr Corbyn said Cox was 'an exceptional, wonderful, very talented woman, taken from us in her early forties when she had so much to give and so much of her life ahead of her.'

Tributes were also paid by Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron who called her an 'outstanding representative who stood up for her community diligently', Commons Speaker John Bercow said Cox was an 'outstanding' MP and that fellow parliamentarians had come to admire her talent and passion.

Words like tragic and heroic have been overused to the point where they have lost much of their impact, yet there was true tragedy in the way Jo Cox met her death; more importantly there was something decidedly heroic about the way she lived her life.

She was, by all accounts, a woman who lived for others without being either a pedant or a scold, that she did so for its last year in a profession often seen as an exemplar of cynicism and self interest makes her even more remarkable.

The death of Jo Cox has reminded us of something we've always known, but have chosen to forget in recent years. Although they might not all have her qualities most MPs are a long way from being the cheating caricatures the media makes them out to be.

Most work hard, try their best and receive little in the way of thanks for their efforts, if this shocking crime has forced we the public to examine some of our lazier assumptions some good may have come from a bad thing.

What it shouldn't do, and the temptation very much there, is allow us to turn an understandable sense of outrage in to a moral panic accompanied by a knee jerk reaction. There will be an entirely appropriate re-examination of the level of security surrounding MPs as they go about their constituency work.

To this must be applied a sense of proportion, something the British sometimes struggle with applying in stressful circumstances.

The last thing we need is for Britain to become the sort of country where politicians shuttle from one secure location to another surrounded by an entourage of hired muscle in mirror sunglasses, where the only voices they hear are those of sycophants.

To represent their community in anything like a meaningful way politicians have to be part of that community. If they are going to speak for the people they must first have listened to what they have to say, even when it isn't necessarily what they want to hear.

The idea that politicians, or members of any other profession, merit deference should be packed away in the attic along with Grannies wedding dress, but if they make themselves accessible to the public then the public should treat them with respect.

There should always be a robust debate, but it only works if all concerned get a fair hearing and holding an opposing opinion isn't a risk to life and limb.

Few members of parliament are as talented or inspiring as Jo Cox, but like her they are all human beings, imperfect but for the most part trying to do the right thing. Remembering that might be the most lasting memorial to the life she lived so well and lost too soon.

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