Chris Creegan

Comment | Ideas | Opinion

Politics: time to stop the rot

by Chris on 17th June 2016

Houses of parliament westminster women sexism politicsI didn’t know Jo Cox. But I’ve met many MPs over the years and count a number of them, past and present, as personal friends. In the immediate aftermath of her tragic death, I felt the urge to contact those I know well to say that I was thinking of them. And so I understand why people have taken to Twitter to publicly thank their MPs for the work they do.

We don’t know exactly what happened yet and it isn’t helpful or appropriate to speculate*. But what does seem clear is that Jo Cox was murdered because of the job she did. It’s a job which it has become all too fashionable to deride, part of a profession which it has become far too easy to pour scorn on. Jo Cox’s death is, of course, heartbreaking for her husband, children, and others close to her. But it’s also deeply shocking and bleak for British politics.

I served one four year term as a local councillor nearly 20 years ago. It was at once the most rewarding and the most frustrating thing I have ever done. As with the role of MP, it’s multifaceted and in many ways what you make of it. If you do it properly it’s very hard work. Above all the most fulfilling aspect of the role is the relationship with the electorate you serve.

It’s therefore especially poignant that Jo Cox was killed in her constituency as she went about doing her surgery. It’s a part of the job which is sometimes mundane and always relentless. It’s all too frequently a source of frustration and all too infrequently a source of reward. But my experience as a councillor was that however infuriating it could be, it mattered hugely. To be a political representative without taking it seriously would be completely meaningless.

Most MPs work very, very hard; far harder than many other people I know. It’s not a glamorous existence and it’s invariably a lonely one. It takes an enormous toll on personal and family life and renders impossible the kind of routine and normality that most of us take for granted. You give up leisure time, forgo privacy and become an easy target for people to vent all manner of frustration. That’s often understandable, but it’s hard nonetheless.

Yes, it’s relatively well paid and offers variety and opportunity which many workers can only dream of. But all that comes at a considerable price. Yes, the expenses scandal was real and some MPs were culpable. But for the vast majority, politics is not a source of wealth and the working conditions are far from ideal.

We know that distrust in politicians and apathy about politics have been rife for some time. Yet one of the striking aspects of the current referendum is that it appears to have exposed a disconnect between politics and the electorate on a scale we haven’t previously seen. Whatever, the result next week, all our MPs will have some bitter pills to swallow. And things are going to have to change. But I think there’s a role for the rest of us too.

On an individual level, politicians have to earn respect like everyone else. My experience at a local level was that wasn’t easy. But it’s made a good deal tougher by a level of cynicism which is often based on scant evidence and wilful misunderstanding. Bashing politicians has become fair game in this country; good sport. It’s sunk lazily into our national psyche. Our political culture is rotting and that’s in no one’s interest.

It’s sometimes suggested that we get the politicians we deserve. It’s all too clear that in someone like Jo Cox we got far more than we deserved. She served the community she grew up in and saw no conflict between that and reaching out to communities across the world. Yesterday she died doing a job which we’ve stopped valuing properly. Worse still we have been increasingly complicit in allowing our MPs to become targets for unprecedented levels of aggression and abuse.

Enough. I think a fitting tribute to Jo Cox’s tragic death would be to pause and ask whether it’s time to take responsibility for rebuilding the trust which has become so deeply eroded. Trust which is all too often considered to be a one way street. Politics matters. Politicians have their piece to play. But our political culture is ultimately what we make it. For the sake of Jo Cox and her family, let’s reflect on that in the coming days.

* This post was written before details of the arrest and the circumstances around the murder emerged.

  • Liz Jordan

    It’s a beautiful tribute. She sounded like a wonderful lady and MP and I have no doubt there are many more like her. I pray for her husband and two little children and all her family in their sorrow on this terrible day.

    But I have to disagree that we are all at fault. Nor are our public representatives at Jo’s level. But the top tier, the policy makers, those who decided the way to ‘save our economy’ was to cut everything to the bone especially for the weakest among us may prove to be the worst mistake of any government in modern times.

    Thousands of people have died in this country over the past 6 years due to mental health issues brought on by relentless cuts. We’ve had hangings, overdoses, one women committed suicide by walking under a bus no longer able to keep her home due to the bedroom tax, an ex-soldier because he was unable to take his medication as he needed to keep it refrigerated and could not afford the electricity to do so. He died in abject poverty, too proud to let his fault know how very bad things were and so many more horror stories that were barely reported on the news or ever heard of at all. Instead we have George Osborne on how wonderful his budgets were and how well the economy was doing. Maybe for the City of London and the banks, but not for normal everyday people whose names we will never know and the dead who paid the price.

    No-one yet knows why that man did what he did but there is evidence that he suffered mental health issues in the past. The Leytonstone “terrorist” I think moreso had mental issues as well. It’s clear to me that our Government are going to have to look at the terrible cuts they have made to mental health services, social services (too many children dying at their parents’ hands too) and really everything that just makes a liveable life for all people of our country not just for the few at the top – not super-rich, just a roof over their heads and food on their table and enough to pay for electricity and keep warm in the winter.

    I’ve gone on, forgive me, I’m still trying to make sense of a senseless tragedy.

    God rest you, Jo Cox, you were a good person who had many achievements in your life and I am heartbroken for you and your family that you were taken from all who knew and loved you far too soon but maybe your greatest achievement is yet to come if your tragic death changes our Leaders hearts and brings compassion and kindness back into our society, just as you strove to do every day of your life. You are safe now in the arms of Jesus. Rest in peace.

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