Thursday, 16 June 2016

Jo Cox MP, killed while doing her job

The news has just come through of the death of the Labour MP for Batley and Spen as a result of a senseless gun and knife attack.

She had just completed a regular constituency surgery. The precise motivation for the murder has yet to be established, but it seems to have been connected with her position as a member of parliament. Sadly, around one-fifth of MPs have suffered some form of physical attack. One recalls the knife attack on Stephen Timms in 2010 and the samurai-wielding lunatic who took the life of the brave aide of Nigel Jones in 2001. Both those men survived. Jo Cox was sadly the first MP to have been assassinated since the Irish troubles led to the deaths of Airey Neave in 1979, Sir Anthony Berry in 1984 and Ian Gow in 1990.

It is probably too glib to lay the blame for her death at the door of the media, both print and broadcast, who have relentlessly denigrated the work of politicians, but the atmosphere they have created cannot have helped.

This is the opening of Jo Cox's speech introducing the adjournment debate she obtained in October last year on the subject of the plight of civilians in Syria.

Jo Cox (Batley and Spen) (Lab): Every decade or so, the world is tested by a crisis so grave that it breaks the mould: one so horrific and inhumane that the response of politicians to it becomes emblematic of their generation —their moral leadership or cowardice, their resolution or incompetence. It is how history judges us. We have been tested by the second world war, the genocide in Rwanda and the slaughter in Bosnia, and I believe that Syria is our generation’s test. Will we step up to play our part in stopping the abject horror of the Syrian civil war and the spread of the modern-day fascism of ISIS, or will we step to one side, say that it is too complicated, and leave Iran, Russia, Assad and ISIS to turn the country into a graveyard? Whatever we decide will stay with us for ever, and I ask that each of us take that responsibility personally.
To date, neither side of the House has a record to be proud of. Let me start with my party. One of the reasons it is such an honour to be standing on this side of the House is the deep, deep pride that I have in Labour’s internationalist past. It is pride in the thousands of people from our movement who volunteered to fight tyranny alongside their fellow socialists and trade unionists in the Spanish civil war; pride in the leaders of our party—and Robin Cook in particular—who demanded action to stop the slaughter of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica and elsewhere, in the face of outrageous intransigence from the then Conservative Government; and pride in the action we led in government to save countless lives in Kosovo and Sierra Leone. In recent years, however, that internationalism has first been distorted, and now risks being jettisoned altogether.
My heart sank as I watched in 2013 when, following President Assad’s use of chemical weapons against civilians, we first voted against a military response and then supported taking military options off the table. Responsibility for the mishandling of that critical vote, which had such far-reaching international implications, falls principally on the Government, but we on these Benches carry some culpability for letting Assad ride roughshod and unchallenged across what should have been a sacrosanct red line. As a result, the international community lost all credibility in our subsequent efforts to stem the spread of, and the suffering in, this horrific civil war. Indeed, our failure to intervene to protect civilians left Assad at liberty to escalate both the scale and the ferocity of his attacks on innocent Syrians in a desperate attempt to cling to power.
I understand, of course, where our reticence comes from. It comes from perhaps the darkest chapter in Labour’s history, when we led this country to war in Iraq. Many Members in all parts of the House have been scarred by that experience, and understandably so; but let us all be clear about the fact that Syria is not Iraq. I opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning because I believed that the risk to civilian lives was too high, and their protection was never the central objective. I knew, as we all knew, that President George Bush was motivated not by the need to protect civilians, but by supposed weapons of mass destruction and a misguided view of the United States’ strategic interest.
I marched against that war, and have marched against many others in my time. Indeed, before I joined the House I was an aid worker for a decade with Oxfam. I have seen at first hand the horror of war and its brutal impact on civilian populations. I have met 10-year-old former child soldiers with memories that no child should have to live with. I have sat down with Afghan elders with battle-weary eyes. I have held the hands of Darfuri women, gang-raped because no one was there to protect them. From that experience, alongside a horror of conflict, I have the knowledge that there are times when the only way to protect civilians requires military force. I might wish that it were not so, but it is. That is why I firmly believe that the Labour Government were right to champion the adoption, in 2005, of a landmark global commitment to the best and most fundamental of our human ideals: the responsibility to protect civilians. I still firmly believe that a legitimate case can be made for intervention on humanitarian grounds when a Government are manifestly unwilling or unable to protect their own civilians. Sovereignty must not constitute a licence to kill with impunity.
The history of Iraq hangs over us all, and it should, but its legacy is awful enough without supplementing it with a new one of ignoring the slaughter in Syria. We must not let it cloud our judgment or allow us to lose sight of our moral compass.

The war in Iraq led to the deaths of thousands upon thousands of civilians. Its legacy must be to make us all put the protection of civilians at the centre of our foreign policy, not to make us sit on the sidelines while hundreds of thousands more are killed and millions flee for their lives.
It is a sign of the regard in which she was held across the House that one of her supporters in the debate (and a man who was swift to pay tribute on Radio 4's PM programme) was Conservative Andrew Mitchell.

My heartfelt sympathy goes out to her family and her parliamentary colleagues.


Frank Little said...

Sue Doughty, a stalwart Liberal Democrat, summed up the feelings of many in the party in a Facebook comment on the Guardian report: "As they say, she was the genuine article. Most of us have just had to put up with the hatred and ridicule that a few rotten apples cause all of us to suffer but this is devastating. To lose someone who was clearly going to go far is a loss to us all. Condolences to her husband and children, but also those who will feel her loss so strongly in the Labour Party.Nothing ever justifies violence."

Stan said...

Too glib indeed to blame the media, Frank. Let's let the police and other authorities do their job and find out exactly what drove this maniac to do what he did. I've written separately on the NF on this but I wouldn't be at all surprised to find out that this guy was an apple short of a picnic. I wholeheartedly endorse your comment that "nothing ever justifies violence".