Jo Cox MP
Around lunchtime on 16th June reports began to emerge of an attack on a Labour MP in Yorkshire, outside the library in which she was conducting her constituency surgery. As the afternoon went on it was clear that something truly appalling had happened and just after 5 pm Yorkshire Police confirmed that Jo Cox MP, for Batley and Spen, had died from dreadful injuries inflicted by both a shotgun and a knife.
A picture emerged the following day of both the murdered MP and her murderer. She was young, universally admired, courageous, intelligent and resourceful. She was a mother with two young children and a devoted husband. The murderer was revealed as a supporter of extreme right wing politics, who clearly hated Jo Cox’s humanitarian and inclusive attitude to people of all races.
There was shock, disgust and sorrow expressed all across the country, with generous words from all parties, including the then Prime Minister, David Cameron. In this constituency of Sittingbourne and Sheppey people of all political faiths expressed their deep sadness. It made many think about the confrontational nature of the referendum debate and there was a call for a weekend armistice on the 18th and 19th June.
On the Monday, Parliament was recalled to pay respectful tribute to Jo Cox. This was not a business day, but a chance for all MPs, by their very presence, to show respect and to represent the strong emotional feelings in their communities. For a time, there was a sense that we might have a more decent politics.
Last Friday, 8th July, our Local Party held its first constituency meeting since these tragic events. There were 25 members present and we held a minute’s silence as a tribute to Jo Cox.
At the meeting it was also revealed that the Conservative MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey had not been in parliament to join in the tributes to Jo Cox. It was further reported that he had given his reason for being absent as “I did not know her”.
We are extremely disappointed. It seems to us that Gordon Henderson saw no personal advantage to himself in being in Westminster and took a day off. It suggests to us in the Labour Party that he does not understand the nature of representation and that he should have been there on behalf of the people of Sittingbourne and Sheppey, whatever he thought of her politics. We obviously feel this with some sensitivity because Jo was a Labour MP but we have to say there are times when MPs must represent all of their constituents.
It was also true that Gordon Henderson campaigned on the Saturday when there was meant to be a pause. He will say that he scaled down the level of activity, but he did take Chris Grayling to Lower Halstow and took a promotional photo there that was published in the local press on the Wednesday before the referendum vote.
We, in the Local Labour Party, have never chosen to attack Mr Henderson personally, though we are conscious of what we regard as a number of shortcomings. His statement that he “did not know “Jo Cox underlines his rather low presence at Westminster. His contributions to Parliamentary debate in the chamber of the House of Commons appear to be somewhat sparse. In six years as MP, there is not much evidence of much being delivered to the people of Sittingbourne and Sheppey. Moreover, there seems to be no agenda for the local area, no real ambitions and no targets for change. It is only fair to say that, whilst he is inconspicuous in Westminster he cultivates a high profile in the constituency by attending local events as a sort of civic dignitary, sharing in the local group’s photo opportunity. But this isn’t actually doing very much. There seems to be very little political impact on the Tory Group on Swale Council and no input into serious local issues such as the failure of regeneration policy and the burdens of the local plan.
We are, as we say, very disappointed over the failure to do what was right over our slain MP and we call for a more proactive approach to the serious needs of the people of Sittingbourne and Sheppey.