Jo Cox: the MP who spoke first of unity has united us all

Connect Account Director Charles Pitt writes for PubAffairs on the week’s developments. The original article can be found here.

So much news, but only one story this week. The frightening and savage murder of Jo Cox MP has shaken Westminster to its very core. Jo was 41, her two children only three and five. Elected in 2015 she had already made her mark. When she first spoke in the House of Commons she said: “While we celebrate our diversity, what surprises me time and time again as I travel around the constituency is that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.” Yesterday we were “more united” again, in sorrow. Given the pressure on new MPs to focus wholly on local matters, it is all the more impressive that it was Jo Cox who led, with Andrew Mitchell MP, the call to address the refugee crisis in Syria. Mitchell described her yesterday as “a 5ft bundle of Yorkshire grit and determination”. Westminster, all of us, has lost something that we barely knew we had.

Mercifully, attacks on politicians in the UK are almost always verbal. Jo Cox has the horrific distinction of being the only woman MP to be murdered. (The last MP to die in post was Ian Gow, murdered by the IRA in 1990.) To be accountable our politicians must be accessible; the constituency surgery is as important a concept for the body politic as the State Opening of Parliament. Let us hope that fear does not overwhelm the need for the politicians to be amongst the people.

In Tooting yesterday evening “the forgotten by-election” was muted. Congratulations to Dr Rosenna Allin-Khan, who won the seat last night for Labour after Sadiq Khan took office in City Hall. It was a hard-won fight on both sides and Dan Watkins, the Conservative candidate, was relentlessly positive throughout. As activists walked the streets of Tooting in the twilight it was knowing smiles not rancour between the blues and the reds. The call to serve is no small vocation: Westminster has lost an MP and gained another.

It was training day at Connect on Thursday and before the afternoon’s news had broken all the talk was of Brexit. But in the messy detail of how we do public affairs we pondered Early Day Motions, Ten Minute Rule Bills, Pre-legislative scrutiny, Ping Pong…yes, this is how we engage our politicians, this is how we make our voice heard. Our over-engineered democracy is all about making sure that grievances can be aired, injustices addressed, heroes raised up and villains vilified. But by speaking please, and in no other way.


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