The brutal murder of Jo Cox MP has horrified us all. She was clearly a rising parliamentary star and will be terribly missed. It is hard to find words to convey the shock that everybody feels on hearing news like this.
When MPs appear on the television or radio, it is usually because we are arguing passionately with each other about something. It is easy to assume that heated discussions in a two minute interview reflect the way we always interact. In fact nothing could be further from the truth. MPs of all parties spend many hours in one another’s company and very often form good friendships - and certainly respect. I may disagree politically with Newport's two MPs but I would never question their integrity and commitment to the city. Two near parliamentary neighbours, Paul Murphy and Don Touhig, (now in the Lords) remain widely liked and respected by MPs for their enormous contribution to public life. When MPs die, particularly in tragic circumstances, the words of praise from political opponents are sincerely meant. It is a shame that the reality of political competition prevents us from offering the same praise in public to political rivals that we often feel they deserve.
As I write this, the full facts around Thursday’s tragedy are not known. Already I hear well-meant suggestions that MPs should have much more security, especially at constituency advice surgeries. I believe we should not rush to conclusions. Indeed, I went ahead with my surgery in Monmouth on Friday. MPs do have to deal with verbal abuse and threats from angry members of the public, but they are not alone. NHS staff working in A&E during weekends or bus drivers on late shifts will know the feeling, as do many other public servants. As a society, we need to think about how to encourage greater levels of respect for each other.
Gwent Police were very kind and called to offer support, which I politely refused. I have a great love for Monmouthshire and those who live here and I could not envisage doing this job with police protection. I’m certain Jo Cox would have felt the same way. The best response we can give to her memory is for MPs to carry on trying to help people as best we can, and perhaps be willing to show each other the courtesy in life which, sadly, we usually only publicly acknowledge when people have died.
*Published in the South Wales Argus on 20 June 2016*