Jim O’Neill reflects on recent events and says we must seek to restore the regard in which politics is held.
It is hard to write this not long after a much loved, much respected comrade has been gunned down in the street, just for doing her job – looking after her constituents’ interests and being a mouthpiece for those who cannot protect themselves. But I feel I have to.
I had the privilege of working for a similarly motivated and loved MP (even if sometimes the staff did not like him too much – he often worked too hard for us to keep up!), one who gave up a very well paid profession to represent people in Parliament, and who gave up much deserved fame in his profession for the anonymity of the back benches of the House of Commons. And even if we did eventually go our different ways as our policy differences grew, if I had my time again I would still have jumped when he asked me to put together a team to get him elected in my constituency.
In a time where the media feed on, and feed into, a growing anti-politics feeling, both here and in the United States (viz the Trump revolution in the GOP), where politicians at all levels are seen as bad, or leeching on society, or corrupt, or indeed all three, I want to tell you that it is not true. The vast majority do what they do out of a sense of public spirit and for no personal kudos. Jo Cox was a fine example of such a politician, as was my old employer, who continues to help people in another way.
Sadly, the referendum campaign has been fought in such a way as to reinforce the negative images of politics. Rather than engaging in rational debate, too often the participants have played the man rather than the ball, something more suited to the European Championship than the most important decision in many years for both our own and our children’s futures.
Possibly the murder of Jo Cox will have shocked participants out of this self-negating behaviour, but I will not hold my breath. But I would appeal to all participants, whether they hear me, or respect me, or not, to think about the impact of what they are saying and the way they are saying it. We must all be at pains to avoid playing into the far-right mindset that Thomas Mair showed when asked for his name in court.
It is well-known that I am a supporter of Remain, but one of the most hard-working and best respected comrades in Parliament, Dennis Skinner, has declared for Brexit. The fact that we disagree has not lessened one whit my respect and regard for the man who is a prime example of the kind of politician I sought to be and to whom I referred earlier.
And there are many more like him at Westminster, Holyrood, the Sennedd, the NI Assembly and on councils up and down the country. They deserve our respect and support and we must seek to restore the regard in which politics is held. After all, these democratically elected public servants take decisions which have fundamental effects on our daily lives.
I am not one who often quotes Winston Churchill but he had it right when he said: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”
The family and friends of Jo Cox have set up a fund to support three causes closest to her heart. You can make a donation here.