Twelve months ago, Jo Cox was murdered in Birstall, West Yorkshire.
I remember exactly when and where I was when I learned of her death. It was sometime after 6pm when I finished my pharmacist shift and I was driving home listening to BBC Radio Scotland’s Newsdrive. The moment I tuned in, I suspected something major had happened and was absolutely repulsed when it became apparent to me what had happened.
I am guilty to admit I hardly knew anything about Jo prior to that day. But since this time last year, I realised why she was a beautiful human being. I came to realise why she was one of the greatest parliamentarians in UK history, despite only being elected to the House of Commons for just over a year until she left the world. And I very quickly worked out why the grief amongst many was so powerful.
The killing of Jo Cox happened whilst the whole country was in the middle of one of the most disgraceful referendum campaigns of all time. The EU referendum, alongside this year’s UK General Election, represented the worst of politics. Gutter politics was rife. People’s conduct was well below the par. And the political atmosphere was literally poison.
Jo Cox represented the gold standard in politics. For example, in an article for The Observer, the former Labour MP shelved party politics to unite with Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell to courageously put a constructive solution forward to easing the humanatarian crisis in Syria and rightly condemned the vacuousness of the international community when it came to the lack of action to try and put a stop to the conflict (link via Guardian online).
That example is a definition of Jo, alongside a political colleague of a different party, having the decency to bin party political tribalism in order to potentially achieve a greater good. It’s a pathetic shame that we don’t see more examples of this kind in our politics today, because life is too short to erect barrier after barrier from your political opponent just for the sake of either playing to the crowd or protecting your own self-interest in securing re-election in the future.
On a slightly different subject, I was in despair listening to First Minister’s Questions yesterday. I really thought it would have been a far more dignified and somber occassion, particularly given the awful events at Grenfell Tower in London earlier this week and of course given that today is the anniversary of Jo Cox’s murder. Too often, I switch on my social media apps to find nothing but cheap jibes made, santicmony rife and downright rudeness so apparent. And the lack of proper leadership and positive results in terms of delivering real change and policy is far too obvious these days. If there is anything people should take from Jo Cox’s legacy, it is to up their game when it comes to political practice.
Politics and democracy is ill at this time. It is infected with soundbites, political parties possessing an unhealthy obsession and disdain for rival parties and a real lack of insight into the real issues affecting people’s lives on a daily basis. As someone who’s been involved in politics before, if there’s anything that makes me sick to my stomach it’s the cheap shots at rival candidates or parties in order to play to the crowd or fellow political comrades. Yes I know we’ve all, even myself, been dragged down into the undesirable business of scoring political points. But it’s frankly nauseous.
Since last summer, I’ve tried hard to maintain as diplomatic a nature as possible when it comes to providing my own opinion on what’s happening in the world. Yes of course just because I despise tribalism, it doesn’t mean constructive criticism cannot happen. But if one is to criticise, then that criticism needs to be coherent, fair and free of any self-righteousness. I think a lot of people need to understand this, especially on an anniversary like this, otherwise the quality of our politics will remain poor for a very long time to come and jeopardise the future of democracy – it cannot be taken for granted, especially at a time like now.
The murder of Jo Cox was truly one of those moments that stopped me in my tracks. Today will have been a day for people to reflect. But from today onwards, politicians, political activists and everyone else should make an intention within themselves and others to drive the quality of politics upwards, for the greater good.
Can the step up to the mark be made? God willing, let’s hope so.
Image from Garry Knight via Flickr under CC0 1.0 licence (picture cropped from original photo, in accordance with terms of licence)