Sunday 8 December 2019

Jo was the best kind of politician - and the best type of person

The murdered British MP believed that politics could be a force for good, writes Laura Kuenssberg, BBC Political editor

Labour MP Jo Cox. Photo: PA
Labour MP Jo Cox. Photo: PA

Laura Kuenssberg

Jo Cox was extraordinary, but totally normal. She would talk intensely about the complex causes she believed in and understood, while you shared a pack of Maltesers and a cup of tea.

Jo wasn't one of those politicians who makes their way to Westminster to satisfy their own sense of importance. She was utterly uninterested in her own advancement, grappling with the greasy pole, even though her gifts would have taken her far.

I hadn't spent much time with her but I liked her tremendously, partly because unusually for Westminster she treated everyone exactly the same.

Unafraid, funny and clever, she wanted to make a mark in the House of Commons, not for herself, but because she believed in the power of the place - that if you want to change things, you can.

If you make the effort, work with others and pursue your beliefs, despite its many ugly downsides, ultimately, politics has the capacity to be a force for good. And if you'd been lucky enough to meet her, even for five minutes, you'd never have doubted that was her motivation.

She was the best kind of politician, and the best kind of person, who broke into a huge smile when she talked about her family's life on their Thames riverboat.

We forget too often that politicians are not a separate species, but men and women with lives and loves away from the green benches.

But we're not always kind to our politicians. In a world where principles and personal ambitions clash and truths are mangled, they attract our scepticism.

That's right and proper. But they don't deserve our cynicism. Political life can be thrilling, but it's also a slog with hard work, long hours and opprobrium from the public.

The rewards can be great. But they can also be rare.

And unlike in many other countries, there's something special about how our system works. Whether you love or loathe your local politician you can go and bang on their door and ask to see them, and they'll see you. It's their duty to us, their duty to our democracy. It's a vital link.

Nearly every politician I know has a story about a time when a constituent's behaviour put them on edge or caused them some concern. All too often, sadly, it seems that politicians become a target for one or two members of the public's anger because the local politician is the only person left who'll listen.

Increasing levels of abuse online have darkened the climate, too.

But there have only been a small number of occasions when meetings between politicians and constituents have put politicians in danger.

That open contact between politicians and all of us who elect them is precious and worth fighting for. Politicians are often criticised for not being in touch, not listening to voters' concerns.

But if it becomes too risky for them to do just that, the gap between the public and politicians, the sense of "them and us" could widen even further. They are our politicians. We choose them to represent us. And perhaps this is the time to remember they are more like us than we really think.

© Telegraph

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