On Friday morning last week, I visited St Eanswythe’s primary school in Folkestone, where I was given an excellent tour by the headteacher Jane Garrett, and heard about the pupils recent sporting successes. I then met with the headteacher of the Mundella primary school in Blackbull Road, Nigel Pantling, where I was shown some of the great work being done by the year six pupils who help as junior road safety officers. In the afternoon, I took part in an interesting discussion on topical political issues with sixth form students at Brockhill Park school, and then held my regular monthly surgeries at the Baptist church in Brabourne, the library in Sandgate, and finally at my office in Folkestone. My last engagement that day was to have been taking part in the Churches Together debate on the European Union referendum, intended to be held at Holy Trinity Church in Folkestone. This was cancelled due to the pause in the campaign, following the brutal murder the previous day of my parliamentary colleague Jo Cox, the MP Batley and Spen in west Yorkshire.
Jo Cox was a dedicated MP, and mother to two young children. She was a good person trying to do good things, when she was killed outside of her constituency surgery. Her death has brought grief to her family and many friends, and been a terrible shock for everyone in Parliament. On Monday this week the House of Commons was recalled for tributes to be paid to Jo Cox, followed by a memorial service at St Margaret’s, Westminster, the parish church for Parliament. In the chamber of the Commons, as speeches were delivered by the Prime Minister, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, and many of Jo’s friends in Parliament, you could occasionally and quietly hear her young children, sitting with the rest of the family, watching the proceedings in the gallery. It was a reminder during this fitting and formal occasion, of the truth so movingly expressed by the Labour MP Rachel Reeves in her tribute to Jo, that ‘Batley and Spen will elect a new MP, but you cannot replace a mother.’
For all members of parliament going about their constituency engagements last Friday, there was the strong feeling that any one of us could have been the victim of the attack that brought Jo Cox’s life to such a tragic end. I received, as all of the MPs in the county did, a briefing from Kent Police on safety and security, which reassured us that there was no increased risk, and that what had happened to Jo was believed to be a terrible, but isolated incident. MPs will continue to work publicly and be accessible to their constituents. To do otherwise would be a victory for the haters. We have to consider though how the nature of the discourse in public life has fallen over the last few years, and in particular the hateful messaging targeted at women politicians on the internet. It has become too easy to accuse people in public life of being corrupt, dishonest or ignorant simply because they hold a different opinion on an important issue. A conviction politician for some people, has become a person who simply shares their prejudices and is particularly rude to those that don’t. We should have robust debate, but also respect for each other.