So what do you think of politicians now?

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Jo Cox MP.

A fine woman, mum, wife, MP and public servant

On Thursday last week public life in the UK became much the poorer because of a despicable and cowardly attack which snuffed out the life of a bright, vivacious public servant.

I have never met Jo Cox and was only briefly aware of her when she was one of the main speakers in a parliamentary debate on Syria. Her overseas experience of working with deprived communities was far greater than mine. She is from another political party but I agreed with the whole of her speech in that debate. She rightly pointed out so many things about it being the responsibility of all of us to deal with the consequences of the bombing of Syria and other parts of the Middle East over the years. My own belief is that you cannot support a war or military action and then divorce yourselves from the consequences of those actions. The reason we have children dying in the Mediterranean is largely because we and our allies bombed countries with no idea of the consequences of our actions. Jo Cox was right to point this out.

Over the past few days we have seen just what a fine public servant she was. Dedicated to her noble causes but equally dedicated to the people of her Constituency. She was able to transcend party politics for the sake of her causes and constituency and work with people who in the terms of a General Election she would happily campaign against. That is entirely right and proper. No politician and no political party is right all the time or wrong all the time. Many of the political traditions of this Country are jointly shared by all three of the main Parties and others such as the two nationalist parties and our own Alliance sister party in Northern Ireland. We believe in democracy, the rule of law, transparency, fiscal responsibility and a whole host of other things.

People in this Country should be proud of our systems. We have one of the most open, transparent, corruption free and democratic systems in the World. Not everything is perfect and there is so much we could learn from others but by and large things are good in this country in terms of our democracy and the people who serve in it. I have now been an active politicians for almost 50 years and I have no doubt that in the space of that time when I have met thousands and thousands of politicians of all parties and all levels I have met no more than a handful of people who were bent or on the make.

Yet that is not the public perception. On the night that Jo Cox died I attended an EU event at which I was railed at by a member of the loathsome UKIP party. He thinks politicians are in it for themselves. No matter what I said he would not believe that I earn £18,000 a year for my city and LGA jobs which take up a full working week. When I said that he could check this on the websites of those organisations he insinuated that we all had kickbacks and little envelopes.

Of course politicians are a mixed bag. Throughout the UK there are some 30,000 people elected to major authorities, devolved assemblies or Parliament. Some of those are lazy; some arrogant; some stupid; some naïve. In fact we are quite like most other people! But no-one in this Country goes into politics for the money! Most people join for altruistic reasons. They choose to serve the public by standing for and becoming elected members. We are volunteers supported by other volunteers. For every politician elected there are loads more committed to our Parties by membership; delivering; stuffing envelopes and in other ways.

We have different ideas about what our neighbourhood/city or country should look like. We have other ideas about how we as a society move from where we are to a better place regardless of how we might define that better place. That is, of course, why we are in different political parties. But even there we and the media magnify our differences. Even in Liverpool Council, one of the most political councils in the Country 95%+ of the business goes though unopposed. This is helped by the fact that there are no Tory or UKIP councillors in the Chamber but even where there are in other parts of the country outside the Council Chamber itself councillors of different parties work together and try and find pragmatic and workable solutions to obvious problems.

So if that is the reality of life who is that that moans most about politicians? Largely it is the people who cannot get off their backsides to do anything for anyone else. The armchair critic slobs who know nothing and do nothing except have opinions which they feel that can vent in radio chat shows and various parts of the social media. By and large those who are also committed to public service be it through churches, voluntary groups, amenity groups, school governors and in many other ways respect politicians as we respect them for the work that they do.

It is absolutely right in a democracy that any of us who are elected should be accountable to and scrutinised by the people we represent. Democracy would not function unless we could be held to account. But please let it be reasoned and reasonable criticism based on facts and not fantasy. Have a go at me if you wish but do not accuse me of being on the take. Say how and why you disagree with me but don’t accuse me of being a liar because I have different views from you.

Perhaps members of the public could think of this. Perhaps the media might like to report when we work together and not just when we disagree, often on quite small points. Perhaps we as politicians could do more to help this by being more careful about how we talk to and about each other. Perhaps here in Liverpool we could start that by having a clean and open council meeting in July when we try to accentuate our agreements and minimise our disagreements. Perhaps this process should start from the top with the Mayor and I as Leaders of Liverpool’s two main Parties being more careful about how we behave?!

If we can all do that Jo Cox will not have died in vain. Perhaps her death will have ushered in a greater understanding of politicians as compassionate carers with families and all the ups and downs that everyone else has. Jo Cox was a fine public servant. In respect for her we must all strive to deepen democracy, respect the underdog and work together with people with different beliefs whenever we can find a joint way forward.

Jo Cox MP rest in peace – we will remember you.

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About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. . Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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