One of the narratives to emerge from the murder of Jo Cox MP on Thursday has been the widespread call for Politics to be less confrontational…more respectful…kinder.
Certainly the line put out by journalists who inhabit the same Westminster village is that “politicians are people”.
The weekly surgery is an important part of Politics. It might be all about Westminster set-pieces in the House of Commons on Monday to Wednesday but on Thursday evening the exodus to spend the weekend in the constituency begins.
For some like London-based Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party, there is no disruption to a routine.
But there are actually two types of MP involved in the exodus. Jo Cox was actually born and lived in the constituency she represented. London was her temporary residence. Getting the northbound train (or whatever) was going “home” and surely less of a chore than London-based MPs who spent years on official candidate short lists before getting thru a selection convention in the West Midlands or the north of England.
The weekly surgery is important. Constituents who have problems…housing, education, benefits turn up, can visit a constituency office during the week but understandably the most difficult problems require the attention of the MP him/her self.
One of the better aspects of Democracy is that a MP represents ALL constituents, not just those who voted for the MP.
Sometimes the MP is the social worker of last resort.
Sometimes people are vexatious.
Sometimes people are mentally unstable.
Sometimes people are dangerous.
The mantra “if you cant stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen” is only relevant to a point. When the mail contains death threats and rape threats, it is a very serious matter.
Why has this happened?
The first point is that we do not live in an age of Deference. Those who welcomed the Internet and claimed it would change Democracy probably did not realise that the most significant thing about politics on the internet is the unpleasant nature of many contributors.
This rudeness has spread to Television …programmes like “Have I Got News For You” and “Mock The Week” for example.
In fairness, MPs have hardly helped their image by their historic attitudes to claiming expenses or other means of getting their snouts in the trough.
So the “politicians are people” is a misleading knee-jerk reaction. For People can be good or bad. “Hashtag Politics” is of course a nonsense and there can be few more nonsensical hashtags than “#ThankyourMP”. You couldnt make it up.
Really you get a chance to thank your MP once every five years. Thousands do that in 650 constituencies.
Another narrative to emerge is that the murder of Jo Cox was an “attack on Democracy”. That may well be the case but it seems undemocratic that the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats have decided not to contest the Batley by-election. Surely the best way to serve Democracy is to give a choice to the electorate. When Ian Gow was killed in the 1980s, there was a contested by-election …and the Conservatives actually lost the seat to the Lib Dems.
I now expect that the REMAIN side will win the Referendum. It would not exactly be a triumph for Democracy if the result hinged on an emotional response to a tragedy. Quite properly, BOTH sides in the Referendum Campaign suspended campaigning and yet the news reporting since Thursday has been a boost to the REMAIN campaign.
Jo, her husband and children in a small boat with their IN flags sailing the Thames as part of the flotilla sent against Nigel Farage earlier this week. The IN campaigners tweeting their pics from their silent vigils (wouldnt it be more respectful to have bi-partisan vigils?). There will be a special vigil for Jo Cox in Trafalgar Square. …on the evening before the Referendum.
Let there be no mistake here. The Non-Campaign is in itself a Campaign.
And part of the campaign has been the call for Gentler Politics. This favours REMAIN as there is certainly an unpleasant underbelly to the LEAVE Campaign….an underbelly of Xenophobia and Race.
After two weeks of poor showing in opinion polls…the polls showing a neck and neck contest, the tragedy is likely to add percentage points to REMAIN.
Is it in bad taste for me to analyse it this way? I dont think so…I can only be honest. And if you criticise me for suggesting that the motives of politicians are not entirely ethical….do you not accept that strategists and analysts and speechwriters in both campaigns are doing exactly the same thing.
As David Cameron, Jeremy Corbyn, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and the rest are “prepped” ahead of the tributes to Jo Cox in the recalled House of Commons, watch for the nuance in their language. As I write this, the advisors are at work.
Of course we have seen politicians acting decently this week. George Osborne, Andrew Mitchell, Justine Greening to name a few. We have seen others jump on a bandwagon.
But this “gentle politics”…what exactly does that mean? Are the Tories now reversing the savage cuts they have imposed? “Gentler Politics” does not mean Tories will be nice to the poor, the old, the sick, the refugees, the people on zero hours contracts.
Of course not.