Last Friday, I headed over to Parliament Square to pay my respects to Jo Cox MP, the member of parliament murdered by a right-wing fanatic, seemingly angered by her support for Britain to remain in the EU.
For the last few years the poisonous media narrative has been about corrupt MPs only out for themselves, feathering their own nests. This translates to public anger and cynicism: just this weekend, a very nice chap on an internet forum (hint: sarcasm alert), while explaining to me that I was a celeb loving idiot, described all politicians to me as “self-serving, corrupt, venal, dirty, lying, scum”. The media haven’t pointed out to us that as a group, MPs represent the society we live in. They are a microcosm of us, so if some are bad that doesn’t mean all are bad or that politicians are bad in their entirety unless you think all people are bad (and I don’t believe that for a second).
The media has wanted to foster this perception of politicians as out for themselves to advance their own agenda of “the [luminous mass of gas held together by its own gravity] knows best” without any competing narratives. The theme in the UK EU referendum campaign of rejecting the views of representatives and experts, or suggesting they are biased because of interests or funding, is drawn directly from that narrative. It’s toxic, because take away the factual underpinning of all arguments and all you have is people shouting at each other. No wonder some have called this referendum campaign the dawn of “post-factual” politics.
I’m sad that literally the only things I knew about Jo Cox before all of this was that she was the little MP who had to pull the microphone down on election night and that she had written some articles with Andrew Mitchell that I hadn’t read (mainly because of the mud previously flung at Mitchell).
I didn’t know about her past as an aid worker, her tireless work for a variety of causes, her representation of her constituency and country. The stories friends, colleagues, and constituents told about Jo Cox made it clear she was exactly the sort of person who should be elected to office in this country. The kind of person who deserves instant respect. Sadly, it’s a “better” story when it’s a MP taking backhanders than it is when it’s an MP doing a fantastic job. There’s something very, very wrong in that view.
Perhaps we need to remember, that you can disagree with the person or their views while respecting their role or office; that people have voted for that person in particular to represent them; and in the vast majority of cases their views are honestly held because they want to make things better. The vast majority of MPs do good work for the constituencies they represent regardless of what you think about them or their politics at national level.
Before last Thursday everything had degenerated into vitriolic mud slinging by both sides of the referendum debate. That kind of “debate” persuades no one and stirs up further division and hatred. We all need to respect the honestly views of others even where they disagree with us. Because if we can do that, leave or remain, there won’t be a space for hate. That’s a future worth fighting* against cynical narratives for.
* the irony of using this noun is not lost on me.
Taken with my Sony A7RII