21 Jun Out of the lunacy of murder we need a lasting and befitting legacy.
16th June 2016, the clock stopped and a nation held its breath. And as the breathing continues for the rest of us, in the name of Jo Cox, a transformation has to occur. We cannot go back to what was the norm before her death, for that would make a mockery of her murder and the very real mourning that has taken place. There needs to be a lasting, befitting legacy for this loving, caring, feisty, intelligent mother and politician, whose goal, like virtually every other public servant, was to make the world a better place.
If we want to retain our open democracy, our connection with the public, then we need to make politics a safer profession to work in. If we want to attract women like Jo to the profession then it needs to welcome women and be a safe place for women to work. That would be a true lasting legacy for Jo Cox.
Watching the outpouring of emotion, I want to draw a comparison to what happened on 31st August 1997. At the time I was working in the media, had been for 6 years, and was doing a daily TV show on the newly created Channel 5. Unlike now, where Politicians are the butt of all jokes, The Royal family wore that mantel. Princess Diana was pursued relentlessly, shouts for the country to become a Republic where at its loudest, there was a daily Royal drama and the nation was whipped into anti-Royal hysteria. And just as tensions could not get any higher, the media circus not get any more reckless, came that car chase, that terrible crash in Paris and with it Princess Diana’s death.
I draw the comparison because the mood, the debate, the discourse was ugly then too. In hindsight, it seemed inevitable that the level of frenzy could not continue without some terrible fall out. Such a pace of poisonous negative media coverage could not continue without a crisis. And that crisis, like now, came with a needless death.
After Diana there was a change a mood. Royal bating and vitriol did reduce. Privacy was afforded to her children and other royals. That does not mean an unquestioning deference. That just means a ceasing of needless media thuggery and jingoism. And that is something we need to see now in the wake of Jo Cox’s death. We need a pause, a reflection and a stopping of unnecessary politician bashing along with needless tribal debate raising the temperature to incendiary levels.
I use the word “media” in the loosest sense, meaning, social media as much as anything, particularly Twitter as it provides anonymous Tweeters a platform of 140 digits to extol the most bitter bile. These unrestrained words swarm across Twitter, leaving a bit of their poison wherever they land. They creep onto newspaper websites, linger on individuals twitter feeds and find outlets on credible news sources and with the never ending 24/ 7 news channels needing stories, radio stations requiring filling, papers needing print and opinion, such comments, no matter how irrational, are finding their way into the mainstream and the national psyche.
The need to stop, pause, reflect and get a grip on political coverage has been a long time in coming. And over the last 7 years the coverage has reached fever pitch. From the expenses scandal which broke in 2009, the tempo has never abated. Of course it was right to condemn lawbreakers, 4 MPs and 2 Lords went to prison for what they did. But the rest of the honest, hard working politicians can’t be maligned for things they didn’t do and yet they have been.
During the 2010-2015 parliament, the environment got no better – attacks carried on unchecked. And here, parliamentarians must take blame too. Restraint needs to be used in their language. Personal attacks allow others to justify their personal attacks. Too often, MP’s desperate for media coverage and in a bid to agitate their own followers, the most vile and irresponsible things are said about fellow MPs. I should know, John McDonnell, now Shadow Chancellor, called me a ‘stain on humanity’ and was recorded speaking about me at a rally saying ‘lynch the bastard’. His defence he was only repeating what someone else said! No apology was ever given despite being taken to task several times in the House of Commons. Such a casual dismissal is unacceptable. For those words took on a life of their own. Anger was whipped up. ‘McVey the murder’ was daubed down the high street. Protests and marches were organised and orchestrated and the most unedifying scenes in what is otherwise a quiet town took place. Afterwards when the circus had moved on, people could not believe what had gone on, nor what people had been caught up in. But during the election this had become a common day occurrence, all part of General Election Theatre.
The reality for me and my team was quite different. Raids of our offices, violent threats online, by phone, by post, extra security in the office, police monitoring twitter, CCTV installed in my house after the Mirror printed photos of my home and people camped outside, police interviews and a court case for an individual who threatened the life of me and my staff.
Now we remained safe, if not shaken by the whole experience which lasted well over a year, more down to luck than anything else, but for Jo Cox, luck on 16th June was not on her side. She died trying to help people, serving her constituents. Here was a woman who had helped people in some of the most dangerous places in the world, Uganda, Darfur, Afghanistan and yet she was shot down on the streets of her home town.
This is no longer a problem for someone else to solve. Everyone needs to take responsibility for their actions from politicians to journalists, MP’s to people positing online and then for Twitter and Facebook to remove postings which are designed to incite violence.
For Jo Cox and the women who would hope to follow her into the world of politics, we need to make this world a better place. We can only do that if each and everyone of us play our part.