21 June

Jo Cox and a Kinder Politics

On Thursday 16 June 2016, Jo Cox – a 41-year-old Labour MP, committed activist and, above all, dedicated wife and mother of two children aged 3 and 5 – was murdered in her Yorkshire constituency. The Thomas More Institute wishes to offer sincere condolences to her family and loved ones.

It is difficult here not to see certain parallels between Jo’s life and that of Thomas More (whose feast is celebrated in the Catholic Church on 22 June). Both possessed acute social sensibilities and held moral conscience in the highest regard. Jo worked for a number of charities before entering national politics and, like More, never forgot that political activity should be driven by ethical concerns. Her favoured causes – which included the helping of refugees as well as the tackling of loneliness – attest to strong moral fibre. Like More, she was killed because of her convictions after years of tireless public service.

The heinous attack was perpetrated by an extremist with a long history of mental illness. Whilst one should not attribute formal responsibility to anybody but the killer, this crime does stir reflection on today’s political climate. In a culture where extremism seems ever more to thrive, in a society which seems actually to welcome divisive activity, policy-makers and individuals more generally surely need to give some thought to the best ways of promoting social harmony. Without hindering genuine freedom of speech or imposing censorship, public figures ought to take it upon themselves to create a climate wherein a kinder politics can thrive. Kindness can perfectly well live with sharp intellectual debate.

This horrid crime also raises questions about how we treat our politicians. We must challenge their policies – since we certainly require accountability –, but politicians must not be assumed a priori to be corrupt persons deserving of public vitriol. Political disagreement does not demand verbal or physical abuse. Many politicians – perhaps especially ‘back-benchers’ – work untiringly for their communities, and we should be able to distinguish character from particular opinions that may be more or less to our liking. We complain about politicians’ failures but it is our duty in the general public to help elevate the level and style of political discussion, to make it more considerate.

Jo Cox was an exceptional woman and a fine parliamentarian. Our thoughts and prayers are also with husband and children at this time. But we should devote some thought also to lessons to be learned by all of us.

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