IT is a sad indictment of contemporary society, and the knee-jerk response to daily events which has supplanted sensible debate, that knocking politicians – and MPs in particular – has become a national pastime.
There will, inevitably, be occasions when the opprobrium is justified – like the 2009 expenses scandal – and this newspaper will never shy away from highlighting double standards or instances where Yorkshire has been short-changed.
Nevertheless, perspective and context are required. It should not have taken the murder of Batley & Spen MP Jo Cox, and this week’s conviction of her white supremacist killer Thomas Mair, for the country to appreciate the work of politicians, the sacrifices they make and the threats they face.
They are not the villains of the piece who put self-interest before the public interest – the unhelpful characterisation frequently made by some of the national media’s rabble-rousers which is fuelling even more misinformed comment on social media where the vilification goes unchecked. They are predominantly selfless individuals, like Mrs Cox, and public life will be poorer if the most willing, and able, do not stand for public office because the abuse against them, and their families, is intolerable.
If there is one lesson to be learned from the awful events outside Birstall Library on June 16 this year, it is the need for the electorate to be more respectful of those who choose to serve – even when the policy and philosophical disagreements are profound.
It also means the criminal justice system taking a far more robust stance with those misguided individuals who do threaten defenceless MPs – and also their staff – with intimidating words and actions which cause them to fear for their safety.
And it needs the Parliamentary authorities to take this issue far more seriously, especially in view of reports highlighting a perturbing rise in far right extremism and the candour shown by Paula Sherriff in speaking bravely about the specific threats she has faced, how her mother has requested her not to cause controversy and how she no longer uses social media to publicise visits in advance.
Not only was Ms Sherriff a friend and colleague of the late Batley & Spen MP, but she represents the neighbouring constituency of Dewsbury and, in an extraordinary irony, the Parliamentary authorities vetoed her request for additional security at her constituency office and surgery – measures recommended by West Yorkshire Police – on the very day that Mrs Cox was shot and stabbed to death.
Rightly, the decision was rescinded – but it should not have come to this. For, while the Palace of Westminster has been turned into a fortress to prevent terrorist attack, MPs and their colleagues are invariably at their most vulnerable in their own constituencies where they have little protection from the criminally sick and mentally ill who cannot, or will not, apply reason or logic to their grievance.
These dangers are not new – Ms Sherriff received a credible death threat just weeks after her election in May 2015 – but the scale has only become clear in the aftermath of Jo Cox’s death. They do need to be taken even more seriously by the police and Parliamentary authorities who appear, belatedly, to be more mindful of the risks.
But these steps still do not warrant, or excuse, the public from taking out their frustrations, whether in person or on social media, against those who are serving their community, and country, to the best of their ability.
Far from being vilified, they deserve our unstinting respect – and one act of unspeakable evil must not be allowed to stand in the way of the special relationship between MPs and their constituents which is so fundamental to the democratic process.