“A kinder, more compassionate society where every individual has a sense of belonging and where we recognise that we have more in common than that which divides us.” That’s the vision of the Jo Cox Foundation five years after her murder by a Neo-Nazi white supremacist.
I don’t blog very often these days – mostly because a) so little winds me up and b) I have the CBA that marches hand in hand with advancing years and failing health. But too much has taken place in the last week not to comment.
What happened in Leigh-on-Sea last Friday was horrific. We’ll have to wait and see what (if any) errant nonsense is put forward by the perpetrator’s defence team. But with the possible exception of a genuine mental illness nothing can justify the killing of anyone who was going about their peaceful and lawful business, which Sir David Amess most clearly was. (In my book, the fact that he was a Member of Parliament does not add anything to such an egregious crime.) Such a senseless act will forward no cause. It leaves a family bereaved and mourning. Unfortunately it also leaves politicians scrabbling around trying to find a scapegoat. And there’s some real BS that needs to be challenged!
First is the argument that MPs need to be able to maintain the personal relationship with their constituents. The overwhelming majority of us will never have reason to approach our MP, and when we do it’s mostly by way of letter or email. I’ve never once needed or wanted to attend my MP’s surgery, but I accept that some people do. What I don’t accept is the idea that the surgery can’t be subject to security arrangements. MPs are quite happy with the idea of “in-need” constituents having to yell their personal details through an inch of plexiglass in a busy council housing office or a crowded outpatients department. And as our litigious society has forced many GPs to have a chaperone in order to carry out an intimate medical examination, I see no real reason why an MP can’t have a caseworker with them. (MP Stephen Timms was stabbed in May 2010, and he survived. His assistant disarmed the attacker who was restrained by a security guard until police officers arrived.)
Jacqui Smith, the former Labour home secretary and now chair of the Jo Cox Foundation, has said “Elected representatives have a right to be safe in their public life. ” I’d go one further and say that we all have a right to be safe, but most of us will have to make our own arrangements. Ms Smith then went on to say that “we all have a responsibility to treat elected representatives with respect”. Perhaps the best place to start with such a novel idea would be the House of Commons.
In the UK we have the unedifying spectacle of MPs aggressively hurling insults at each other – not to mention the childish bear pit of Prime Minister’s questions. Doesn’t take much of a Google to find video of MPs spitting hate-filled venom at each other across the floor. Recently the Deputy Leader of Ms Smith’s own party declined to apologise for calling the Conservatives “scum”, saying she was using “street language” to convey her “anger and frustration” at the actions of the government. Hardly the language of respect. You reap what you sow!
It is disingenuous in the extreme to suggest that hostility towards, and abuse of, politicians is a new thing – and then to blame it all on Facebook and Twitter, the current all-purpose scapegoats. Any student of history knows that that argument is utter bunkum and just deflection. The UK has a lengthy tradition of insulting and egging MPs – and worse. David Amess is the eighth serving MP to have been murdered since Spencer Perceval in 1812. Irish Nationalists who murdered four MPs between 1979 and 1990 didn’t have Facebook or Twitter – they barely even had mobile phones, but what they did have was an idea.
Social media is a reflection of society – the main drivers of hatred have always been religion and politics. (See Blogarama ad nauseam on the evils of religion.)
There is so much toxicity in our politics and our elected representatives show little or no respect for each other. Monkey see, monkey do, and you only have to look across the Atlantic to see what happens when Pandora opens that box and a major political party effectively legitimises hatred. The USA has torn itself apart and it will take a generation to heal, if it ever can.
The best monument to Sir David Amess would be for our politicians in the UK to put their own house in order, to learn how to disagree with civility, to set a decent example.