LIKE many of us, I wasn’t all that aware of MP Jo Cox until her shocking death. I read something sensible she wrote in the Yorkshire Post under the headline, “Brexit is no answer to real concerns on immigration.”
I agreed with what this Labour MP had to say, so looked her up on Google, wondering at the pleasant-seeming woman in the photograph that accompanied the article.
So when I glanced at my phone on Thursday and saw that she’d been attacked, I knew who she was. A second glance at the phone later in the afternoon provided the shocking news that we all now know: this young MP, mother, wife, friend to many, former aid worker and woman of principle – and proud daughter of Yorkshire – had died from the injuries she received in an attack as she emerged from her constituency surgery.
That an MP could be murdered as she went about her work is still too shocking to fully absorb. The death of this 41-year-old woman has produced a reaction of shock so widespread and deep, it is hard to recall something similar.
Personally, the news made me feel physically sick: like everyone else, I just couldn’t fathom that something so awful had happened, something so cruel and calamitous, something so wasteful and devastating. The phrase about a waste of a life rubs up against cliché, yet this was a monumental waste of a life, the pinching out of a flame that burned bright.
Two thoughts occur to me here. In a year of ‘famous’ deaths in popular culture, from Bowie to Prince and many more in between, we have already spent too much time mourning good people gone.
And once again we are mourning someone we didn’t know. Sometimes that can seem to be an unhealthy emotion, but not here. I think that’s because when you read up about Jo Cox, when you hear what she had to say and what she believed in, when you hear everything her constituents, friends and fellow MPs have said in tribute, you genuinely can share the sense of loss. You feel that you knew her. Or more tragically that you are just getting to know her when it is too late.
The other thought was that Jo Cox represented what might be thought of as “unpopular culture”. Too many of us think the worst of MPs, complaining that they are all in it for themselves. Feathering their own nests with expenses. Insulating themselves in hot air.
Thanks to such commonly held views, it has been easy to forget that not all MPs have their snouts in a Parliamentary trough; easy to overlook those who work hard and have strong beliefs; easy to fall for the caricature of cruel satire.
Of course such unkind sketches arise for a reason. And there is a tragic irony in a good politician being so cruelly taken at a time when politics has been putting on its least appealing face. This Europe debate has been the nastiest, least civilised and generally foul display of politics in memory.
Maybe that’s what politics is, the fierce putting and pitting of views. But away from the quarrelsome arena, there are constituency MPs of all political colours who work hard in the area they represent.
Jo Cox was exemplary in a way that isn’t always usual now, in that she was an MP the area when she’d been born and had grown up. She was a proper local girl, someone who represented her people, rather than an outsider imposed by party machinery or machination.
And she had only been an MP for one year. The personal tragedy has to be carried by her husband and two young children, as well as her friends. Yet there is a wider tragedy too in the sense of so much having been lost.
Another cliché seems to fit here, the one about how you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. Most of us didn’t know Jo Cox until she was gone. And that really does seem to be a tragedy.