We should all strive to leave the world a better place than the one we came into. We can achieve that either in the lives of our children, family or friends, in our work, by what we do in our community, through any part we play in our country or even in the wider world. Jo Cox MP achieved a remarkable amount in her 41 years of life and made a difference in all these spheres. She undoubtedly had a great future ahead of her and politics will be very much the poorer without her. And it seems Jo’s husband Brendan, is also a rather special person. In a statement shortly after she was murdered last Thursday, he urged everyone to “fight against the hate that killed her” – how right he was.
Tolerance is a cornerstone of British values and I greatly fear that in recent years we have seen it diminishing, increasingly being replaced with a strong under current bordering on hate. Rigorous and robust debate is essential in a vibrant democracy and I have no difficulty engaging in political discourse with people who don’t agree with my views. But the tone has undoubtedly changed in recent times and we must now reset the dial. Politicians, political commentators and reporters have an absolute duty to ensure free speech flourishes but we also must strip out the rhetoric that fuels fear and preys on prejudice, and establish a more tolerant tone in a more civilised manner.
I can honestly say I don’t hate anyone and I can equally be sure that there are people who hate me for no other reason than I am a Conservative. Like many MP’s I regularly receive abusive emails and tweets and I am sad to say I have grown used to it. “Tory scum” and “traitor” are regular insults tossed around on social media. Many of my colleagues in Parliament are subjected to racist and anti-semitic abuse and I don’t think there is a woman MP who escapes sexist, mysogonyst abuse. This horrid and unacceptable way of doing politics became evident in the Scottish Referendum campaign and was best illustrated to me when the highly affable Labour MP Jim Murphy, was hounded off his soap box. Foul abuse flourished on Twitter and spilt over into last year’s Labourship contest. It simply has to stop.
But to be clear – I am not making out that MP’s are some special category, this creeping intolerance extends across our society. By way of example it’s as if its suddenly become acceptable again to use “immigrant” as a derogatory term. I am not alone in witnessing a change in the way some people talk about migrants – ‘they’re all on benefit’ (that’s not true; twice as many British born people claim benefits than migrants. Migrants put in more than they take out with HMRC estimating migrant workers contribute over £2 billion to our economy). “They’re wrecking our NHS” (that’s not true either, though you will find migrants in our NHS – treating people or cleaning our hospitals). As you might imagine I could go on but I will save that for another day!
So, in the wake of Jo Cox’s dreadful and untimely death let’s take a step back and look at how we conduct our politics. Let’s accept that the overwhelming majority of MP’s want the same thing – a better, more prosperous, kinder society and world – what divides us is the policies by which we achieve those common goals. Every day I work with fellow MP’s from other political parties – it’s nothing new and it’s the norm not the exception. I accept we often don’t help ourselves but the vast majority of us work hard for all our constituents; now we have a duty to make sure some good comes from Jo Cox’s death, so let us all start by putting hope not hate at the heart of everything we do.
As ever, Anna