Medical Tuesday Blog
Jo Cox, The First British MP To Be Murdered Since 1990
She wasn’t a TV Star and wouldn’t dress like one.
Jo Cox, the first British MP to be murdered since 1990, died on June 16th, aged 41
The ECONOMIST | From the print edition | Jun 17th 2016
OUT-OF-TOUCH and self-centered at best; deceitful and crooked at worst:
Jo Cox—idealistic, diligent, likeable and rooted in her Yorkshire constituency—was a living rebuttal of that cynicism.
Britain’s political class is easily caricatured as an inbred elite. But she was the first member of her family to go to university. True, she found Cambridge daunting: it mattered so much how you talked and whom you knew. Other undergraduates had posh professional parents and had taken sunny gap years. Her only foreign travel had been package holidays in Spain, with summers spent packing toothpaste in the factory where her father worked; indeed she had assumed, until school pointed its head girl farther afield, that she would spend her life working there.
For all her brains and charm, Cambridge jolted her confidence—setting her back five years, she said. But when in 2015 she reached the House of Commons, mastering the ways of that self-satisfied, mysterious and privileged institution was easy.
Also unlike a stereotypical politician, she had a real life. She had been an aid worker for ten years. She had met rape victims in Darfur in Sudan, and talked to child soldiers about how they had been forced to kill their family members. She commuted to the House of Commons by bicycle, from the houseboat she shared with her husband and two young children, its view of Tower Bridge the only luxury she allowed herself to enjoy. (She wasn’t a TV star and wouldn’t dress like one, she firmly told a constituent who wondered if she might like to vary her trademark, unfussy blue blazers and red dresses.)
Principles mattered; tribalism did not. She was Labour “to the core”, but one of the most moving of many tributes after her murder was by Andrew Mitchell, her Conservative co-chair of the all-party Friends of Syria group. He called her a “five-foot bundle of Yorkshire grit”, and recalled her ferocious scolding of the Russian ambassador for his country’s role in Syria’s civil war. She and her Tory counterpart would text each other across the floor of the House of Commons, oblivious to the baying partisanship that raged about them. Other such friendships abounded. . . .
She bemoaned British foreign policy’s missing moral compass. Whereas many Labourites droned or ranted at the prime minister’s weekly question-and-answer session, she asked him, calmly and devastatingly, whether he had “led public opinion on the refugee crisis or followed it”. That unsettled Mr Cameron, and (aides now say) helped change British policy. Her plainly spoken ambition to be foreign secretary one day looked more than plausible.
Helping her constituents was her most rewarding job, yet also prompted the tragic circumstances of her death. Though Westminster and Whitehall are tightly guarded, British politicians have scant protection when they venture outside. Only a handful of senior ministers have police bodyguards. Constituents wanting to meet their representatives simply make appointments for their regular surgeries (advice sessions)—or, as in the case of Mrs Cox’s assailant, wait outside in the street.
Trust and openness come at a cost. Five politicians were assassinated during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the last of them Ian Gow, blown up by a car bomb outside his home in 1990. In 2000 a regular visitor to the Cheltenham constituency office of Nigel Jones, then a Liberal Democrat MP, entered in a frenzy, wielding a sword, wounding the lawmaker and killing his assistant, Andrew Pennington. In 2010 an Islamist extremist walked into a constituency surgery to stab and nearly kill the Labour MP Stephen Timms. A recent survey showed four out of five MPs saying that they had experienced intrusive or aggressive behaviour. Mrs Cox herself had complained to the police about abuse—although not involving the 52-year-old gardener with, seemingly, far-right views and psychiatric problems who is now charged with her shooting and stabbing. . .