• Dark Day for Democracy

    Mid Devon Advertiser
    24 June 2016

    On Monday Parliament was recalled to pay its respects to Jo Cox, the Labour MP who was recently murdered in her constituency. She had arrived early for an advice surgery but did not make it to the library door - she was shot and stabbed. Two young children lost a mother, a husband his wife and parliament a highly respected member who had much to contribute.

    We gathered in the commons for a debate full of moving tributes and afterwards attended a nearby church service. There was much to be said for Jo – her thoughtfulness, humanity and passion for humanitarian campaigning. Her belief that in life there should be more that unites us than drives us apart.

    Any death under these circumstances is a tragedy but Jo’s murder, the first of a sitting MP in 26 years raises especially dark issues. Democracy is to be cherished but is sometimes fragile. To be alive and whole it requires those who represent us to be accessible. Threats to MPs run counter to this. They come in many forms including death – a fellow MP who serves with me in the Whips office was visited by a man recently who threatened to kill him and when arrested was found with a knife in his bag. Many others face similar threats – women in particular – much via Twitter. Whilst physical attacks are less common than the other filth that comes our way there is surely a connection between violence and the general background noise. I don’t believe that politicians deserve greater respect than many others and vile behaviour is visited upon many in public service including our police and NHS personnel - but no one should have the right to be abusive to others including MPs, the vast majority of whom do their best. And where is the national centre of gravity for this behaviour at the moment? Far too close to the abusive end of the spectrum. One example, on TV during the EU debate a young female student finger jabs at the Prime Minister. She uses the F word several times ‘you’ve f***ed up’ this; ‘you’ve f***ed up’ that she says. At the end of her rant the audience applaud with gusto and the moderator, far from asking her to tone it down, turns to the PM as if to say ‘well, so what’s your answer to that then, sunshine.’ Now, I don’t care whether the PM in question is a Conservative like myself, a Socialist or a Marxist for that matter – that kind of behaviour is wrong and to have arrived in a place as a country where that behaviour is apparently not only tolerated but applauded by many is deeply disturbing. It sets the backdrop against which far worse happens. So let’s all look to ourselves. Let’s have our disagreements but with a dignity and respect that our democracy deserves. To disagree we do not have to be disagreeable – that was a maxim that Jo Cox lived by.