Small Britain

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Photo: SWNS

The last time a politician was killed in the United Kingdom was in 1990, when an IRA bomb killed Ian Gow. He was the last of a string of MPs to die at the hands of the IRA.

Yesterday, the nation – not just Birstall and its surrounding area – lost a true great of UK politics. A woman, a wife, and a mother, whose life was snatched away too soon.

Jo Cox stood for diversity, tolerance, inclusion, and care, and was greatly praised for her maiden speech in the House of Commons after she became an MP last year.

Coming to terms with Jo’s death has been difficult for many of us, least of all her family and those who knew her personally.

What I saw yesterday was not the death of a Westminster politician, but the death of a person, and that is something absolutely fundamentally wrong with our politics today; we do not see politicians as human.

If being involved in journalism and working alongside politicians has taught me anything in the last three to four years, it is that these are real people; real people, with families, with ordinary concerns, who actually care about their community.

Why on earth would you become a politician? Unless you were one of the lucky few who went to private school alongside the top dogs of British politics, you know it is going to be a hard slog the entire way.

Being a politician requires true dedication, day in and day out. Always being called for the minutiae of your constituency’s problems; being accountable for your actions; having the courage to speak in parliament; dealing with difficult people; living a real life at the same time.

Why has this disconnect occurred between public and politicians? Some would say it is the fault of the media, but they do not understand the true relationship between journalists and politicians.

As anyone who has had a chance to work in political journalism, you know that what happens off-camera or -record is totally different to what the public see.

It is the job of the media to hold politicians accountable, but also to ensure they do not give any cause for the politician to hate them. They give them stories, and some may even just be friends.

The minute I close my notebook in front of a politician, the conversation becomes genial and free-flowing; as if we have just come off-stage from a rendition of Shakespeare.

And so, when we turn to Jo’s death, we feel as though we have lost a neighbour – someone who we knew, even though most of us live hundreds of miles from Batley and Spen.

It goes to show how truly tiny Britain is; an attack on one feels like an attack on all of us.

Having lived in the USA for four months, I can say the sentiment is not the same. What happens in Oregon might well as happened in another country if you live in Virginia.

It may not just be a geographical phenomenon; perhaps we share some sort of collective identity, because we all have the same government, similar police forces, same history and culture.

Jo Cox will be missed in the Commons, where I have watched her on BBC Parliament since she entered the building with – in her words – “a decent, healthy chunk of cynicism and humour.”

As ever, my – and I hope many’s – thoughts go out to the Cox family, and I hope the goal Jo pursued in parliament will not fade now she has gone.

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