The death of my friend and colleague Jo Cox is above all else a personal tragedy. Not just of a young life cut off at its most hopeful and exciting point, but of a wife and mother who completed a family and a remarkable human being, who achieved and inspired in equal measure.
Of course it is significant that Jo was an MP, because for all our faults MPs are an essential component of democracy, and this brutal act is a direct challenge to the open society painfully crafted over centuries. But no one should be killed just for doing their job, whether police officers, MPs or any public servant.
My first thought was to speak to my staff about their safety and to the police to review the security at my constituency office. We make ourselves available to constituents because without doing so we simply cannot do our job. MPs are particularly vulnerable at surgeries as attacks on Stephen Timms and Nigel Jones demonstrated. But it was Andrew Pennington, Nigel Jones’ assistant, who died in that attack, and we have a duty of care to those we employ.
Jo was an exceptional person and an exceptional MP. She saw being an MP as a means to continue her work as head of policy and humanitarian campaigns for Oxfam, not as a title or an end in itself. So although only elected last year she was already changing government policy, most notably on refugees from Syria.
I suspect that like me 95% of her contacts with the public were positive and warm. This should not be a surprise as an MP’s first duty is to problem solve and advocate for constituents.
But there is now a disconnect between the personal experience people have of their own MP and the general narrative that says that as a class they are all greedy and lazy and to be treated with disdain or worse. This negative discourse is now part of politics in Britain and beyond.
Jo was a fearless champion of human rights, unstoppable in upholding the cause of the dispossessed. We can learn from her example by continuing to speak out. If we also learn to do so in a way that does not disrespect or demean those with whom we disagree, she will have an even greater legacy.
Andy Slaughter, MP for Hammersmith