Jo Cox MP. Sir David Amess MP. Two public servants, contrasting in method and in policy, but united by a common duty: the duty to serve. Their affection and responsibility for their constituencies was an example to all parliamentarians and will not soon be forgotten.
And yet, Jo Cox and David Amess were murdered whilst fulfilling the most basic function of their roles, and something that they both valued extremely highly: meeting, listening to and supporting their constituents, people who rely upon their representative in our great legislative democracy to make their voices heard and ensure that they receive the help they need. For many, being able to speak to their Member of Parliament across the table, face-to-face, is crucial to being able to explain their predicament, and ensure their legislator is listening. It is unique to Britain and has always been the hallmark of our accessible democracy that, whilst not perfect, actively encourages hearing the voices of all.
But Jo and David, certain that they were simply ‘doing the job’, shouldering up to the expectations of the office, paid the dearest price: their lives. The brutality of their killings was - and is - barbaric. Jo Cox was shot twice in the head and once in the chest, and stabbed over fifteen times, on the way to a surgery in Birstall. 77-year-old Bernard Carter-Kenny was also stabbed whilst coming to her aid. David Amess had spoken to constituents on the steps of a Methodist Church in Southend and was just going through the doors to begin his surgery. He was stabbed multiple times by a man who stepped out from the crowd. He fought for his life for more than two hours, as paramedics heroically tried to save him.
Why have I described the killings, in all their graphic detail? Well, the question that should be asked is: why should we allow such horrific and unforgiveable acts on our public servants to take place? Why should someone who has devoted their life to helping others, addressing the most serious problems we face and offering support be butchered? Why should MPs live in fear of someone, anyone, stepping out of a crowd and stabbing them again, and again, and again? It is unacceptable, it is disgusting, and it is a deep and lasting wound to our democracy.
But why has British public discourse fallen so such levels of toxicity? The answer is simple; just one word. Extremism. The poisonous toxicity of extremism has crept through our society, infecting those who are vulnerable to it. Hate groups, whether they be neo-Fascist or Islamist, inhabit the dark corners of the internet, targeting victims and warping their perspectives.
Politicians are clearly not without fault here. Certainly, since the financial crisis, the increasing capitalisation on division and polarising populism practiced by many leaders across the world have merely fuelled tensions between and amongst individuals, communities, and nations. We must act to prevent such an atrocity from occurring again.
So what can we do? Well, I believe the approach must be multi-faceted. Firstly, the root causes of not just this murder, but extremism and radicalisation overall – much of which takes place through the internet – need to be identified and dealt with through fresh legislation. Secondly, it appears necessary that, if MPs are to continue to engage with the public, as I believe is a crucial part of the job and a great asset to British democracy, they must be provided with additional security. And thirdly, it is a responsibility of all politicians to tone down the rhetoric, cool the temperature and set an example for the rest of us to follow. Labour’s Deputy Leader Angela Rayner identified this in her apology for referring to members of the Tory Frontbench as “scum” at Labour’s conference, and this should extend further. All sides have a duty to do their best to reconcile, rather than divide us. To prove that we can disagree sat around a table and reach compromise and bridge the divide. For we need an example to be set, and where better to start than with our policymakers and politicians.
We have a long way to go. But I hope, for the memory of two parliamentarians who understood the meaning of duty in its truest sense, we can succeed.