Sunday, 19 June 2016

Thoughts on the last few days, on security, and the need to co exist with those we disagree with

The impact of the horrific loss of a colleague who was just starting to shine, after her first year in the House of Commons, is beginning to sink in. Tomorrow the Commons will remember Jo. Like all MPs, from whichever party, and like all the county councillors I know, she was motivated by a sense of public service, a desire to make a difference, and a great satisfaction when by their actions a constituents life was improved.
As one person put it-"Jo Cox MP achieved a remarkable amount in her 41 years of life and made a difference in all these spheres. She undoubtedly had a great future ahead of her and politics will be very much the poorer without her; her husband Brendan, in a statement shortly after she was murdered last Thursday, urged everyone to "fight against the hate that killed her" - how right he was."

On Friday I spent the day in the far west of Northumberland doing surgeries, appointments, having meetings and updating residents with the county councillor, Ian Hutchinson. The response was really encouraging.

Many will argue that by reason of Thursday's events we need greater security in order to do this job, but I will be resisting that. One of the great advantages of this job is your immediacy of access - I am constantly stopped in the street to be asked a question or have a chat; this happens at the supermarket, on the train or at an event, wherever; and that is how it should be. I do not think I need any specific greater protection to do this job, but I would make a few comments.
- When there are potentially tricky situations then we do need to take them seriously and the police must be able and willing to react quickly and robustly. To be fair the police are very good in direct ways.

- But there is no doubt that whilst the Internet is a wonderful thing it has changed people's behaviour. No one has ever been abusive to me to my face, however much they have disagreed with me.
But get these people on Twitter, Facebook, social media and the abuse, the trolls, and the terrible things that are said and done have to be seen and experienced to be believed. All MPs would agree that this has got much worse this last year since the election in May 2015. The vote last autumn on whether we should join the coalition of countries trying to stop the expansion of ISIS in Syria, seemed to prompt an outpouring of vitriol that had to be read, seen and experienced to be believed.
But it is not even this serious issue that creates abnormal online behaviour. This is becoming the norm I am afraid. The ability to reason, to make a case, to debate rationally and without rancour with those of a differing view is getting harder and harder. And it affects the County Councillor, the parish councillor, the public servants, the council employee, the policeman, the nurse, the paramedic just as much as it does the MP.
So next time you see or read such abuse please report it to the police, please do not tolerate it amongst your friends and family, and please let's all try and coexist. All of us, in my experience, are fundamentally good people living in a wonderful country. Let's make sure we remember that.