July 2015. All-Party Parliamentary Rail in the North Group Annual Reception, supported by Rail North and others – which is why I was there, on the Terrace at the Palace of Westminster, having done a lot of the legwork from the Rail North end.
There’d been the usual mingling, networking, a few MPs and Lords had actually turned up, when I was approached by a rather bouncy person asking if I could take a photo of her in front of Northern’s “Proud to be Northern” recoil stand. You know me, happy to oblige, so we headed towards it.
“I’m Jo,” she said “I’ve just been elected. Batley and Spen.”
“Oh, you’re one of mine,” I said – with my West Yorkshire hat on.
“Well you need to be in this as well then,” she said, and handed her smartphone over to James.
The only thing I enjoy less than having my photo taken is having my photo taken with a politician, so I pointed out that James was also a northerner (from the North East), and she dragged him in as well.
Hence the photo.
There’s only one rail station in her patch, but she wanted to know more about Rail North, the Combined Authority and what it all meant for her constituents. Would they miss out? Would they benefit? Answers I couldn’t give, but I knew the people she’d need to talk to, which we sorted out by email (and Twitter!) over the next few weeks.
I’ve met lots of local and national politicians over the years. Jo Cox won me over in 10 minutes – sadly, the only 10 minutes we met for. Whether you agreed with her or not, you never got the impression it was about her but always about the issue. A politician of principle, not convenience. Certainly, one who didn’t mind sharing the stage (or camera).
That’s relevant to me because earlier this week I was given the runaround by three local politicians regarding an event I’m organising. Who would get to speak first. Who would get the first quote in the release. Should I be doing the event at all. That sort of thing. It’s as if they think that the event is about them – it really isn’t.
When people think of politicians, they think of the latter group – not the Jo Coxes, not the other activist MPs nor the constituency MPs who do some great work supporting the people who voted for them, or didn’t vote for them, or who didn’t vote at all. They get on with it and you hardly ever get to know these people because they don’t enter Government or Cabinet. People think of politicians as self-aggrandising, somewhat egotistical people who will take any viewpoint or position if it gives them advancement. Whatever their majority might be, they have a constituency of one.
“Popinjays and martinets” was how I described my three to a colleague. They may actually be good people doing good things – if so, they hide it very well.
Trust in and respect for our professional politicians is at an all-time low. They seem surprised at this – but the decline has been a long time coming.
Will politics change as a result of her murder? Will supposedly respected politicians stop making salacious, sensational pronouncements to whip the masses up in to a frenzy? Will we start questioning motives and looking for the facts so that we can make up our own minds?
I’d like to think we all start honouring Jo’s memory by following in her footsteps where we can, doing what we can where we can for the issues that matter, that bring all together.
I’d really, really like to think that.